Being germane

Sometimes it is the little amendments offered up by a House or Senate member that don’t get
adopted that have you thinking, well, why not? 

Both the House and Senate have rules committees that, if asked, consider whether an amendment
proposed by a member really relates to the subject of a bill being debated. It’s called being
“germane” to the topic of the bill which is being debated. 

We guess the idea is that most of those amendments offered during debate have been considered
and rejected by the committees which pass the bills to the House or Senate for debate and
rejected by those committees. Or…maybe they just weren’t thought-up until the bill is ready for
full debate. Or…maybe it is to bring to the full House or Senate an idea that leaders in each
chamber would prefer go nowhere. 

Last week, those rules committees grew pretty powerful. 

In the House, the rules committee said that an amendment to expand Medicaid to thousands of
Kansans didn’t really relate to the insurance bill being debated. That bill dealt with health
insurance and health care, but not specifically Medicaid. So, the amendment was ruled not
germane, and the House adopted its committee’s ruling. Medicaid wasn’t debated or added to the
insurance bill. It’ll be tried again but didn’t work last week. 

And by not letting those amendments to go a full vote, legislators don’t have to leave footprints
on issues raised, just the procedure. Might look better on a campaign flyer to have voted to
sustain the decision of a rules committee than to have voted against…say…Medicaid expansion.

In the Senate, there were a couple amendments that sounded pretty good when their authors
explained them…before they were ruled not germane and discarded. 

One of them that sounded pretty logical, and heart-warming, didn’t get added into a bill that
related to a simple change of terminology referring to forced prostitution. It simply changed the
term from “sexual relation” to “sex act.”

  Pretty simple, and women and young girls forced into prostitution really don’t have a
relationship with those who abuse them…just performing a sex act. 

The amendment by Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, proposed to add to that pretty logical bill
to make sure that women, often victims of forcible sex trafficking, do not wind up with their
names on court records. 

It’s called “vacation,” that erasing the name of the victims so that it doesn’t follow them for the
rest of their lives and damage their chances of getting regular jobs and living the lives everyone

Sounded like a good idea, a reasonable way to protect those abused women. 

Or…would have been if it hadn’t been ruled not germane to the base bill. 

Might be another way to get that “vacation” into law, but an apparently simple one was rejected
last week.  

Yes, this legislative procedure can be tricky, and the rules are pretty solid so that nobody sneaks
into a bill something that isn’t good public policy. You need clear rules so that legislators aren’t
tricked into passing a bill that does things they don’t want.  That probably over the years has
prevented some bad laws from being innocently passed.

 But every now and again you see something relatively little, with no major effect on the
operation of state government, or on most Kansans, get derailed by those rules. 

Practically, we’ll see whether some of those amendments get on bills in the opposite chamber
during committee hearings in the House on Senate-passed and in the Senate on House-passed
bills where there’s a chance to have full committee hearings on those amendments.