Topeka Rep. Vic Miller's plan to tweak election system embedded in the Kansas Constitution will grab the attention of representatives and senators.
Under House Concurrent Resolution 2022, Miller would reduce the number of House members from 125 to 123 and expand the number of senators from 40 to 41. The reason? He wants to create a 3-to-1 ratio between House and Senate districts. At the same time, the resolution would require three House districts to be contained with each Senate district.
“I did that for the benefit of the voter,” said Miller, a Democrat. “It will be a little easier for them to know who’s district they’re in.”
Criticism surfaced in advance of the House Elections Committee’s scheduled hearing Wednesday on the Miller amendment.
"I’ve had representatives approach me concerned we’re going to lose these two seats and, therefore, some of us will be gone,” Miller said. "Well, it’s not about us. It’s about the structure."
Miller’s resolution, and a constitutional amendment sponsored by Prairie Village Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, would reform the way Kansans elect members of the Senate.
Both lawmakers believe the state should elect half the Senate every two years. If voters approved of this change, after a period of adjustment, senators would again serve four-year terms as they do now. The House would remain on a two-year election cycle.
Stogsdill’s amendment, House Concurrent Resolution 5017, would begin the transition in 2020. That’s when the 40-member Senate is next scheduled to stand for election. He would have winners of odd-numbered districts in 2020 serve two years before seeking re-election. Winners of the 2022 Senate races would get four-year terms. Meanwhile, even-numbered district victors in 2020 would earn the standard four-year term.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, the longest-serving legislator in state history, said he wasn’t aware of disenchantment with the current system in which all House seats were up for grabs every two years and all Senate seats were on ballots every four years.
“I understand the concept of staggered terms, but we’ve had tremendous turnover in the Kansas Senate since I’ve been there,” Hensley said. “I’ve actually served with 143 other senators in the time that I’ve been in the Senate.”
Miller’s amendment would delay introduction of the staggered-term system in the Senate until 2024. In that election year, odd-numbered Senate districts would run for two-year terms. Even-numbered district winners that year would receive the standard four-year term. In 2026, the short-term senators would run for four-year terms.
“I just don’t think you need to elect senators all at the same time. We don’t do that under the U.S. system. Had the framers of the (state) constitution thought about it a little bit they would have done it that way,” Miller said.
Constitutional amendments in Kansas require backing of two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate before placed on a statewide ballot. A simple majority of Kansans voting decide fate of amendments.