Following are some observations and links to documents and websites that help Kansans understand the activity of our Legislature.
The Legislature’s Site
The Kansas Legislature’s website at kslegislature.org was redone last year, and while there were many problems at that time, the site appears to be stable now, but some features are missing, and much data is missing.
The Legislature’s site has rosters of members, lists of committees, lists of bills, journals (the daily record of proceedings in each chamber), calendars (the plan for the day, along with topics for upcoming committee meetings). Also: Audio broadcasts, which have surprisingly good sound quality.
For an example of a missing feature, many of the pages on the site feature a small orange icon that some will recognize as the symbol for an rss feed. If you aren’t familiar with rss, that’s okay, as not many people are. But for those who use it, rss provides a very useful way to receive web content, or to be notified of the availability of new content. But on most of the pages on kslegislature.org, the orange rss icon is dim, meaning that feature is not available on this page. It is available on some pages, however.
For missing data, there are many examples. For example, each committee has its own page. On these committee pages there are links for “Committee Agenda,” “Committee Minutes,” and “Testimony.” But in almost all cases — I haven’t looked at every committee’s page — there is no data behind these links. (Many committees have minutes available, but from last year.)
It had been mentioned to me that perhaps this year committees would make available the written testimony provided by conferees. I haven’t seen this happen yet. This would be a relatively easy matter to accomplish and would be a great help to those following the legislature.
Having committee testimony online would be extremely useful for those who attend hearings. Often there is only a limited number of printed copies of testimony available, so not everyone gets a copy. Since most committees require conferees to supply a certain number of printed copies of their testimony, committees could also require conferees to supply a pdf copy of their testimony in advance of the hearing. These pdf documents could be placed online before the committee hearing. Then, anyone with a computer, tablet (like an Ipad), or smartphone could have these documents available to them.
This would not be difficult to accomplish. It would cost very little, perhaps nothing.
Another example of missing data is on a page titled “Bill Reports” there are several reports which would be useful, but all hold data from last year only.
Some of this information is available in the calendars and journals.
There are useful features, of course. One is the “Current Happenings” link for both the House and Senate. This has a link to the bills that have seen movement in some way each day. The page for each bill is generally useful, too, with the steps in the bill’s history, along with links to the bill text, fiscal and supplemental notes, and other material. Fiscal notes — prepared by the Division of Budget — estimate the financial impact of a bill, while the supplemental notes — prepared by Kansas Legislative Research Department — contain background and explanatory information. When attempting to understand legislation, I look first to the supplemental note.
Something else that’s lacking: Many websites have a mobile version that is optimized for handheld devices and tablets. This is especially true for those built on content management systems, as appears is the case for kslegislature.org. But the Kansas site does not have this, despite being only one year old.
Kansas Legislative Research Department
Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) has many documents that are useful in understanding state government and the legislature. This agency’s home page is Kansas Legislative Research Department. Of particular interest:
2012 Kansas Legislative Briefing Book. This book’s audience is legislators, but anyone can benefit. The book has a chapter for major areas of state policy and legislation, giving history, background, and explanations of law. In some years the entire collection of material has been made available as a single pdf file, but not so this year. Contact information for the legislative analysts is made available in each chapter. The direct link is 2012 Legislator Briefing Book — Individual Sections.
Kansas Fiscal Facts 2011. This book, in 124 pages, provides “basic budgetary facts” to those without budgetary experience. It provides an overview of the budget, and then more information for each of the six branches of Kansas state government. There is a glossary and contact information for the fiscal analysts responsible for different areas of the budget. This document is updated each year, and the direct link to this year’s edition is Kansas Fiscal Facts 2011.
Legislative Procedure in Kansas. This book of 236 pages holds the rules and explanations of how the Kansas Legislature works. It was last revised in November 2006, but the subject that is the content of this book changes slowly over the years. The direct link is Legislative Procedure in Kansas, November 2006.
How a Bill Becomes Law. This is a one-page diagram of the legislative steps involved in passing laws. The direct link is How a Bill Becomes Law.
2011 Summary of Legislation. This document is created each year, and is invaluable in remembering what laws were passed each year. From its introduction: “This publication includes summaries of the legislation enacted by the 2011 Legislature. Not summarized are bills of a limited, local, technical, clarifying, or repealing nature, and bills that were vetoed (sustained). However, these bills are listed beginning on page 178.” 204 pages. The direct link to this year’s version is 2011 Summary of Legislation.
2011 Legislative Highlights. This is a more compact version of the 2011 Summary of Legislation, providing the essentials of the legislative session in 12 pages. The direct link is 2011 Legislative Highlights.
Kansas Tax Facts, Eighth Edition. This book of 69 pages provides information on state and local taxes in Kansas. The eighth edition is from December 2010, and needs to be considered by readers along with the 2011 Supplement from December 2011. The direct links are Kansas Tax Facts, Eighth Edition and 2011 Supplement to the Eighth Edition.
Kansas Statutes. The laws of our state. Click on Kansas Statutes.
Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit
This agency, often referred to as “Post Audit,” provides auditing services to the Legislature of two types: Performance audits look at agencies and investigate their operations from the perspectives of efficiency and effectiveness. Financial audits examine whether accounting and financial systems and controls are working as they should. Some audits from last year included: “State Hiring Practices: Determining Whether Requirements Related to Veterans’ Preferences Are Being Met,” “Affordable Airfares: Reviewing the Benefits Claimed As a Result of State Funding to Lower Airfares,” and “State Agency Information Systems: Reviewing Selected Systems Operation Controls in State Agencies.” Audits generally have an accompanying highlights document that summarizes what may be a lengthy audit report. The link to the agency is Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit.