By John Celock
A Kansas legislative committee chairman abruptly adjourned a committee meeting Tuesday following an attempt to overrule his decision not to work on a bill to restore mandatory due process rights to teachers.
House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) adjourned the committee after House Minority Leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) motioned for the committee to immediately begin work on the bill following a hearing on the legislation. Ward’s motion came after Aurand had announced that he did not plan to schedule a committee to work on the bill this year citing a need for negotiations on final language on the measure, according to observers.
“We had the votes by more than one,” Ward told The Celock Report of the likelihood of his motion passing.
The legislation – sponsored by a bipartisan group of 45 lawmakers – would repeal a 2014 law that allows local school districts to remove due process rights for teachers in their district. The current proposal is supported by the Kansas National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Kansas, along with other groups. The conservative Kansas Policy Institute is opposed to the measure, while the Kansas Association of School Boards has been seeking a compromise rather than returning to the law that existed before the 2014 legislation.
Ward, who was filling in for an absent committee member, said that he told Aurand that he was willing to withdraw his motion if Aurand was willing to schedule a date for the committee to work on the legislation. Ward said that Aurand did not provide a date and then adjourned the meeting.
Aurand did not return messages left for comment. He released a statement on Facebook Wednesday saying that he plans to work with the KNEA and the school boards group to find a compromise by Monday. He said that he found Ward’s motion “hasty” and wanted to give more time for the committee members to do research before doing work on the bill.
“A representative on the committee attempted to force a vote on the bill, but his motion to do so was not within the parameters of the committee rules,” Aurand wrote. “He wanted to send the bill to the House floor, which I believe was hasty. Instead of ruling his motion as out of order as I should have done, I adjourned the meeting. I did not want to vote on the bill without the opportunity for the other members to offer amendments and have time to research the bill.”
Aurand also said that he believed that a new school finance formula should occur before a due process bill. The school finance formula is being handled by another committee, on which Aurand also serves.
Ward noted that the due process bill had first passed due to House leaders holding lawmakers in the House chamber until 4 a.m. in order to achieve 63 votes for the passage. He said that House members were denied a chance to work on the legislation, which had been a Senate amendment that House members could only vote on in an up or down vote. He said that lawmakers should have had more time to work on the proposal then.
Ward promised that the Legislature had not seen the last of the due process bill, promising that Democrats will bring the measure to the floor for debate as an amendment to a relevant bill.
“The first bill we have on education where it is germane it will be offered,” Ward said.
The floor amendment measure was a common tactic by Ward over the last two years on the subject of Medicaid expansion, which former House Speaker Ray Merrick (R) would not allow to advance to the House floor. Ward regularly tangled with Merrick and the House Rules Committee on whether legislation he offered Medicaid expansion, as an amendment to was germane.
Ward has a history with committees adjourning due to his motions.
In 2015, Ward attempted to amend a bill to create savings accounts for handicapped children to include the Medicaid expansion in a meeting of the House Children and Seniors Committee. The committee’s then chairwoman adjourned the meeting before the amendment could be voted on and the committee did not meet again. The savings account bill was revived a week later when the state Senate amended it into another bill covering several banking topics.
“It wouldn’t be the first time a chairman had adjourned the committee when I had the votes,” Ward said.
Ward said he hoped Aurand’s decision showed moderate Republicans that conservative Republicans would use House rules to “subvert and obstruct” the process.
Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park), a freshman lawmaker and teacher who was attending the Education Committee meeting, told The Celock Report that he found Aurand’s actions “disheartening” because tbe House had been working fairly well. He noted that House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. (R-Olathe) has been working in a bipartisan way and bringing bills to the floor for a vote. He said that he had wanted to see the Education Committee work on the bill instead of a potential floor amendment fight.
“Everyone’s preference is for it to be worked the correct way,” Parker said.