The Kansas state Capitol in Topeka against a blue and pink sunset sky
The Kansas Legislature will convene on Jan. 9, 2023, and will meet through at least April. (Photo by Getty Images via Canva.)

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include revisions to the legislature’s website made after this story published, and to add more information sources available to the public.

When the 2023 Kansas Legislature convenes on Jan. 9, lawmakers will begin writing, revising and debating laws that will impact the lives of all Kansans. But most Kansans won’t be there to watch it happen.

The Kansas Legislature meets from January through at least early May each year, holding countless committee meetings and hours of floor debate, which frequently can last into the wee hours. Hundreds of lobbyists and a dozen or so journalists are present to monitor what is said and done.

Thankfully, those far from the state Capitol can monitor the action from home. The Kansas Legislature documents most of its activities daily on its website, kslegislature.org. The legislature’s website stores a wealth of information for those interested in the legislative process, but finding it isn’t simple.

To help our readers understand how to use the records available to the public, The Beacon has prepared a guide so anyone may follow the legislative session from home, even if that home is far from Topeka. 

This post will be updated with links after the legislature updates its website in January.

How do I follow along with the 2023 Kansas Legislature on social media?

Sometimes the easiest way to follow the 2023 Kansas Legislature is to follow the people who follow it closely. 

For the most up-to-date information, Twitter has been the most popular social media network for those who closely watch the Kansas Legislature every day. The hashtag #ksleg is widely used by journalists, advocates, lawmakers, lobbyists and others as a kind of running log of real-time events at the state Capitol. Many will post updates on Twitter from committee meetings, testimony or floor debate, for those unable to watch or listen live.

There are few in Topeka who follow bills more closely than lobbyists, and some are active on social media. Keep in mind that lobbyists are hired to support specific policy positions on behalf of the people paying them, but they are generally considered experts on those positions. Some lobbyists on Twitter will live-tweet about the bills they follow during committee meetings and during floor debate. A list of registered lobbyists (including their clients) is available on the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission website, for those who want to look up their social media handles. 

People and organizations also use #ksleg on Facebook as well as on Instagram. The hashtag doesn’t have much use on TikTok. Many lawmakers also maintain their own social media pages and regularly engage with constituents on those platforms.

When will the 2023 Kansas Legislature meet?

The Kansas Legislature meets part-time, for about four months during the formal legislative session. There are additional committees and commissions that lawmakers participate in throughout the year, but those committees don’t take any formal, lawmaking action outside of the session.

Both chambers of the 2023 Kansas Legislature will convene on Jan. 9 at 2 p.m. While the final list of legislative deadlines hasn’t been published yet, the legislature usually closes the regular session around April 1. After a break of three or so weeks, the legislature will reconvene for the veto session, so lawmakers can finalize any unresolved matters in the state’s budgets and respond to any vetoes from the governor. The process is usually wrapped up in early May, but sometimes can go longer.

The status of each chamber is listed at the top of the legislature’s website. If the legislature is not in session, the date and time lawmakers will next convene is listed next to the status.

How do I find out who my lawmakers are and how to contact them?

You can look up who are your Kansas state senators and representatives by entering your address on openstates.org. If you already know the names of your lawmakers, you can look up their state Capitol office numbers and contact information using the Kansas Legislature’s online directory

How do I know which bills have been filed in the 2023 Kansas Legislature?

Each bill introduced in the 2023 Kansas Legislature will be assigned a number and listed in the order in which it was introduced under the Bills & Laws tab on the legislature’s website. Bills are easily searched by bill number using the Find Bill drop-down search tool on the left side of the website. 

Prefiled bills are submitted before the new session is underway. Two lists of prefiled bills are available on the 2021-2022 legislature’s website, one for House bills and another for Senate bills. The prefiled bills have also been posted on the 2023 Kansas Legislature’s updated website.

How do I search for bills on a certain topic?

The Kansas Legislature’s website was recently updated to allow users to search bills by text. But as of early January, the function isn’t very reliable yet, as search results include bills filed during previous sessions. 

Before the recent update, the legislature’s website was set up to search for a bill only by its number. Functionally, it’s still the easier way to search. If you don’t know the bill number, there are a few ways to narrow in on what you are looking for.

Sometimes, it’s just easier to Google what you’re looking for. A search term like “2023 Kansas Legislature” plus a search term for the topic you’re searching for will bring up news reports and analysis, as well as results from the 2023 Kansas Legislature’s website. Some who closely watch specific policy topics set Google alerts to receive email notifications when a topic is mentioned online.

If the bill you are looking for isn’t appearing in search results, there are a few strategies to track it down. 

Standing committees will often sponsor bills relating to that committee’s business. For example, an education committee would be most likely to sponsor bills relating to schools. Each committee’s page on the legislature’s website lists the bills it sponsored. 

But not every bill was sponsored by a committee. If you know a specific lawmaker sponsored a bill, each lawmaker’s page on the legislature’s website lists the bills they sponsor. 

If you know a bill was voted on on a specific date, you can search the journals for that day to see the activity taken by each chamber, and if the bill you are looking for was mentioned. If you know a committee heard testimony on a bill on a specific date, but you can’t remember which committee, the legislature’s Statehouse Live archive’s calendar view lists each meeting broadcast that day.

If none of those methods helps, you can try the search bar in the upper right corner of the legislature’s website. The search results will include every time your search term appears in a legislative document, including meeting minutes, written testimony and other bills where your search term appears, so it may take some time to parse the results. 

How do I check the status of a bill? 

Once a bill is introduced, it is given its own page on the Kansas Legislature’s website. As the bill moves through the legislature, each step is documented in reverse chronological order, meaning that the most recent action is at the top. The most recent entry under Bill History is the latest status that the legislature has documented for a bill, though sometimes there is a delay in updating a bill’s status. 

If you want to see all bills of a specific status — for example, all the bills the governor has vetoed — you can look at the bill reports. On the legislature’s website, under the Bills & Laws drop-down menu, you will find a link for Reports. 

On that page is a grid organized by year and location. Location refers to the point where a bill might be in the legislative process. 

Clicking any of the links on that grid will bring you to a list of bills that meet that criterion. Clicking Full Report will give you a bill description along with the bill number, which will link each bill back to its page. 

The Bills Location Summary Report will tell you how many bills are at each point in the legislative process. 

What happens to a bill when it is sent to the governor?

Of the 560 bills introduced in the legislature in 2022, 114 were passed by both chambers. Of those, 100 became law. 

After both chambers pass a bill, it can take up to 20 days for the governor to take action, and updates on the Kansas Legislature’s website are infrequent. But while it can seem like nothing is happening before the governor takes action, several processes are going on behind the scenes.

When both chambers of the legislature pass a bill, within 10 days that bill must be printed in its final form — called enrolling — and signed by the chief clerk of the House of Representatives and the secretary of the Senate. The printed and signed bill is then physically delivered to the governor, who then has another 10 days to take action. 

The governor can do three things once a bill is received: sign it into law; veto it, which sends it back to the legislature for consideration of a possible override; or the governor can do nothing, in which case the bill will become law after 10 days without the governor’s support. 

But during that behind-the-scenes process, the public is not always informed of a bill’s progress. Often a bill’s status isn’t updated online until the governor takes action, or sometimes several days after. 

If that happens, the public may have to look elsewhere for the most up-to-date information on a bill’s status. The governor will sometimes issue press releases or public statements on their website or social media accounts like Facebook or Twitter if they sign or veto a bill. These are often picked up by daily news outlets. If information on a bill is not available on those channels, members of the public may contact the governor’s office directly via the Constituent Services office, either online or by calling 785-368-8500.

How do I look up bills from past years?

Those interested in researching political influence over a period of years will likely want to research the legislative history of the bill or policy they are following. Looking at past bill drafts, meeting testimony and committee assignments can show how a bill or policy has changed since it was first introduced, and who influenced those changes. Comparing those findings against campaign donation histories can be especially revealing in understanding how political influence is wielded in Topeka.

Past versions of the legislature’s website are preserved online. The legislature archives its website after every two years, for each legislative session. Once the site for the 2023 session is live, the 2021-2022 website will be archived, along with sessions dating back to 2011. 

To look up historical legislative documents, start at the kslegislature.org website. On the top navigation bar, scroll to the right, over to the Historical tab. Hover, and select from the drop-down menu of past legislative sessions you want to view. 

Searching for bills by topic is easier when researching past legislative sessions. That’s because in the months after a session ends, the legislature publishes an indexed list of all the actions taken by each chamber. These lists are called a Final Actions and Subject Index Report. These reports are usually found on the front page of a session’s archived website, in the Recent Documents box.

To look up a bill for a specific topic, open the list — it will open as a PDF file — and use the search function to find all the bills that were introduced on that topic. For example, to search for past bills on sports wagering, using the words “wager” or “sports” brings up most of the bills relating to sports wagering.

How do I check when a committee will be acting on a specific bill?

Most committees hold weekly meetings where they discuss bills and hear testimony, but these meetings can be rescheduled at the last minute. Committee agendas are updated at least weekly, and are listed by date on the legislature’s website. Details on a committee’s weekly meeting time and location — along with the weekly agenda, which will list the bills to be discussed — can be found on a committee’s page on the Kansas Legislature website. 

Later in the session, conference committees are created to negotiate the details of individual bills between the two chambers. Conference committees do not maintain pages on the legislature’s website, nor are their meetings scheduled far in advance. 

All committee meetings — including conference committees — appear on the legislature’s calendar, using the Statehouse Live link on the legislature’s website. 

Can I watch a committee meeting remotely?

Yes, the legislature streams most committee meetings on its YouTube channel and through its Statehouse Live portal. The date and time of a scheduled committee meeting are listed in the Statehouse Live portal’s calendar view. 

To access this page, open kslegislature.org, hover over the words “Audio/Video” in the upper right corner of the page, and select the third option on the drop-down list, “Statehouse Live & Archive.” 

To access footage of past meetings, scroll through the calendar view to the date of the meeting you are looking for. 

If watching on YouTube, when a meeting is listed as “upcoming,” you may click to receive a reminder of the broadcast. If watching using Statehouse Live, click on a date on the calendar to see a full listing of that day’s scheduled statehouse events, then select the meeting you want to watch. 

How can I read written testimony from a committee meeting?

Committees will publish online written testimony presented at a meeting either during or soon after the meeting takes place. 

You can get to committee testimony one of two ways: through the committee’s page or through the bill’s page. 

If you look through the committee’s page, start by finding the committee on the Kansas Legislature’s website. Click the link for Agendas & Minutes, then choose the date for the meeting from the drop-down menu. A list of the testimony provided during that meeting should populate below.

If you look through the bill’s page, start by finding the bill. Click the link for View Testimony and Minutes. The results should show testimony and minutes for every meeting that’s taken place for that bill.

What happens during conference committee meetings, and how do I watch?

Unlike standing committees, conference committees are formed on an as-needed basis to negotiate the details of specific legislation. Each conference committee has three appointed members from each chamber – the House and Senate – who are members of the standing committees the bill was originally assigned to. Once a bill is no longer being actively considered by the legislature, a conference committee is dissolved. 

A list of active conference committees is on the legislature’s website — along with a schedule — but during busy weeks, this list changes frequently.

Unlike standing committees, conference committee meetings are less formal. No one provides testimony, there is no agenda and the only written documentation of a committee’s deliberations is the conference committee report and report brief. Meetings are also often scheduled with little advance notice and sometimes go late into the night, making them inconvenient to attend. 

Despite conference committees’ informality, they hold outsized influence in the legislature that would otherwise go largely undocumented, if not for archived livestreams and third-party observers like journalists. 

In conference committee meetings, lawmakers can craft legislation without the usual bureaucratic roadblocks. Conference committees are why a proposed ban on transgender student athletes made it into the final stretch of the 2022 session, and why a mystery football stadium was funded by sports wagering revenues. 

Conference committees also use a tactic known as a “gut and go,” where lawmakers strip the original language from one bill and place it in another, often unrelated, bill with a different number. This makes it difficult to track a bill’s progress on the legislature’s website. 

Often, the legislature’s only records of this “gut and go” process are recordings of the conference committee meetings. The documents from the conference committee only show the result of conference committee meetings, not the process. Conference committee reports, listed as CCRs on a bill’s page, are the proposed negotiated legislation. Conference committee report briefs, listed as CCRBs on a bill’s page, are the plain-language summary of that legislation.

The public is able to watch conference committee meetings live, though much of the substantive negotiating happens during closed-door deliberations. For those who want to watch remotely, the meetings are streamed on the Kansas Legislature’s YouTube page and the Statehouse Live portal. 

How do I watch the state House or Senate debate or vote on a bill?

Anyone can watch the live proceedings held on the floor of the Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas Senate.

An agenda for floor proceedings is not published in advance, and for those who aren’t in the building, it can be challenging to know what will be discussed. The day’s agenda for floor proceedings is decided among each political party, often a few minutes before the chamber is called into session. Sometimes, the best way to know what will be discussed in advance is to follow lawmakers, party leadership and journalists on social media. 

To watch floor proceedings live, viewers can watch via the Kansas Legislature’s YouTube page or through the Statehouse Live portal.

Where do I find research on policy topics?

The Kansas Legislative Research Department, called “KLRD” in statehouse shorthand, is tasked with providing background information, policy analysis and technical information to lawmakers about policies and topics the legislature may prioritize. 

Ahead of each session, KLRD publishes briefs with summaries of different policy areas each legislative committee may address in the coming session. The office also publishes the recommendations and reports of interim legislative committees that met throughout the prior year. All of these reports are available to the public, and most of them are found on KLRD’s website. 

The office also serves as a kind of clearing house for technical legislative policy documents not found elsewhere, including itemized budget analysis, political boundary map files and comprehensive reports of all legislation passed during a legislative session. 
While KLRD researchers’ primary duty is to legislators, they are also available to answer questions from the public, short of doing extensive legislative research. Keep in mind that during busy legislative weeks, like the final two weeks before lawmakers adjourn for their spring break in early April, legislative researchers will likely be unavailable to respond to inquiries from the public. To contact the KLRD, call 785-296-3181 or email kslegres@klrd.ks.gov.

Who may I call if I have questions about the 2023 Kansas Legislature?

If you have additional questions about the state legislature, you can ask the state’s librarians. The State Library of Kansas has a toll-free legislative hotline that anyone can call with questions about the Kansas Legislature. 

To reach the state’s reference and research librarians, call 1-800-432-3924. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but you can also leave a message after hours and wait for a librarian’s response. 

You can also email your questions to infodesk@ks.gov or chat with a librarian in real time on the state library’s website at https://kslib.info/ask

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Miranda Moore covers the Kansas Statehouse and state government for The Wichita Beacon.