MCT: Lawmakers: Could too-long hours lead to bad decisions?

1/25/2013

By BRENT D. WISTROM

By BRENT D. WISTROM

The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA (MCT) — How long can Kansas lawmakers go without sleep before they start making bad decisions?

That question was at the heart of an amendment to the esoteric rules of order for the Kansas House of Representatives on Thursday.

Mulvane Republican Rep. Pete DeGraaf proposed a new rule that would cut off debate in the House after 11 p.m. unless a majority of House members agreed to continue.

The idea, which was shot down on a 50-66 vote, would have required a 10-hour break between the final gavel of debate and the start of the next day's session.

DeGraaf said the idea is largely aimed at ensuring lawmakers and the dozens of state employees who draft laws and track votes have ample time to get home and sleep at least six or seven hours before returning to continue debate the next day.

He told fellow lawmakers that truck drivers and other professionals require certain amounts of sleep to ensure sound judgment.

"There are some bad decisions made in those late hours," he said.

Many lawmakers stay in hotels or have lengthy drives home after marathon sessions, which frequently keep them in the Statehouse from 8 a.m. to past midnight in the waning days of the session.

Others, however, argued that many Kansans work very long hours, and that lawmakers should also work late to complete their business.

Last year, Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, died after he drove off Interstate 70 in Wabaunsee County on his drive home about an hour after the official end of the extended legislative session. Lawmakers had worked long hours and through the weekend before the final gavel sounded around 6:30 p.m.

A report by the Kansas Highway Patrol later found that a heart condition likely led to the crash.

"I can't help but think that the stress may have played a role," DeGraaf said.

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