By HANNAH SWANK
KU Statehouse Wire Service
TOPEKA — After a 6-6 vote Monday, House Elections Committee Chairman Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, broke the tie by voting in favor of HB 2227 to move municipal elections to the fall of odd-numbered years.
Schwab introduced the bill in February 2013 to move municipal primary elections to August and general elections to November of odd-numbered years. Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said in the House Elections Committee meeting Monday that the bill was proposed to improve voter turnout.
“This has nothing to do with current school board members, city council members or mayors,” Huebert said. “For me, this has always been about the fact that turnout was bad, and it has only gotten worse.”
Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe, agreed increasing voter turnout was a priority but also said the change will benefit military personnel serving abroad because currently there is not enough time between primary and general elections for those individuals to receive ballots.
Through HB 2227, elected officials would begin term in January of the year following election. Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, proposed an amendment to change term start date to July and maintain the current term commencement.
At the hearing for HB 2227 on Feb. 10, Frank Henderson, president of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said having newly elected board members begin their terms seven months into the fiscal year and halfway through the academic year could be counter-productive and create a platform for making poor decisions.
Huebert said there are benefits to starting a term in January since it allows members to actively take part in forming a budget. Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said beginning a term in July could be problematic if an incumbent is defeated and then stays on the board for another eight months.
The committee voted five in favor and seven opposed and the motion to amend the January term commencement failed.
The Feb. 10 bill hearing also included testimony from proponent Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, who said the goals of the KRP include making municipal elections partisan. The amended bill passed with no changes to the non-partisan election standard.
Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said HB 2227 will only to lead to more confusion for the public since local elections have been held in spring for over 150 years.
“I think people are going to be wondering why and they’re going to be asking why elected officials in Topeka are getting so involved in local elections,” Phillips said. “I’m not sure why we have to change it here in Topeka.”
HB 2227 will move out of the House Elections Committee to the full House for consideration.