But in this case, in contrast to some of my earlier posts about the many ways the Legislature of today differs from the past, I must share that this particular occurrence is not new. I go back to my first term in the Kansas Legislature in 1971 and, as far as I know ever since, sessions have practically always stretched out. In my early career, when bucking up against agreed-to deadlines, the leadership would just stop the clock over the Speaker or Senate President’s rostrum.
As to why this routinely happens, it starts with the design of our legislative system. With the exception of Nebraska, all states have two bodies--the House and the Senate. This means for any legislation, including budgets, to pass for action by the Governor, both bodies need to agree with every detail. That doesn’t happen easily because there are, and always have been, some awkward feelings between the two houses, tied to past fights or just feelings of jealousy or superiority towards the other body. Add to this the fact that it’s just human nature not to concede or compromise your position early on when there’s a chance that, with time, you might do better. Then throw some partisan politics and election maneuvering on top, and the session will naturally tend to drag on.
However, it is important to consider the alternative to this. Is it really in our best interest to have a legislature making decisions too fast? For example, earlier in this Kansas legislative session, the school funding block grant bill was rushed through the entire process in just a few days. Normally, it would have taken weeks or months. Unfortunately, almost nobody with education experience--teachers, school board members, school administrators, education support groups--were given an opportunity to adequately share their concerns or offer better alternatives. So I, for one, will be patient, focusing on the results and not the speed of their work.
UPDATE AS OF JUNE 9th, 2015: Last month, I published this blog post about how drawing out the legislative process is a normal practice in Kansas and across the country. While this is still true, I must admit that what was normal on day 74 is simply unacceptable on this 110th day of what is now the longest legislative session in our state’s history. This is not the way to do the people’s business, and I hope more Kansans will continue to engage during these trying times for our state.