Thursday, April 24, 2014

House report knocks Finch on missed votes

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 6/24/2013

A lot can happen in 48 hours of Kansas House action.

Just ask Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, who missed 41 votes during his April 4-5 absences from his House post.

A lot can happen in 48 hours of Kansas House action.

Just ask Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, who missed 41 votes during his April 4-5 absences from his House post.

“I don’t like to miss any vote, and every vote is important to me,” Finch, who serves as chairman of the House Republican Freshmen Caucus, said Monday. “It is critical to me that the people know how seriously I take this responsibility and the honor of public service. With the exception of the votes taken on those two days in April, I did not miss a single vote of any kind throughout the session.”

Watchdog Kansas, a group of “independent, investigative” journalists covering state government, reported that Finch and six other representatives missed more than 40 votes each. Lawmakers provided a variety of excuses for the absences, according to the report, which included voting reports on five Democrat and two Republican representatives.

Several of Finch’s constituents commented to The Herald that they were concerned with his absences, but asked not to be identified.

Finch, who was elected in November to serve Kansas House District 59, said he scheduled and paid for a trip that began April 4, 2013, about a year in advance — well before even deciding to run for office in summer 2012 after legislative redistricting changed the political landscape across Kansas. When the calendar approached April this year, Finch said, he sought counsel from constituents and others at the Statehouse, who advised him to maintain his plans.

“I do not like to miss any vote, and before leaving I sought the opinion of many of my mentors in the House, leadership and voters here in the district on this issue,” Finch wrote in a statement to his constituents. “The counsel I received was unanimous that I should not be concerned with missing two out of the 99 session days.”

Of the 323 eligible votes in the 99-day session, Finch cast 282 votes, accounting for 87.3-percent participation, according to a report on representatives’ voting participation compiled by Susan Kannarr, chief clerk of the Kansas House. Finch’s absences were classified as “EAS,” or “Excused Absence by the House Speaker [Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell],” according to the report.

Franklin County’s other House representative, Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, cast all 323 eligible votes.

When compared to the House, the Kansas Senate appears to have higher levels of voting participation, according to the chamber’s voting participation report. No state senator reported less than 92-percent voting participation, and 14 of 40 senators recorded perfect attendance, according to the report compiled by Secretary of the Senate Diane Minear. Franklin County’s lone senator, Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, reported for all 346 eligible votes and logged perfect attendance.

Thirty-seven of the 41 votes Finch missed, according to House’s daily journal, were conference committee reports. Such reports are reworked bills or measures that specific committees must resubmit to both the House and Senate for approval before they can be sent to the governor’s desk.

“Those two days I missed were at the end of the regular session when we were considering conference committee reports,” Finch wrote. “Conference committee reports are the final version of bills that we have usually seen and voted on before. This means that I had already voted on these issues and my positions are on the record and well known. In addition, I monitored activity on the House floor and checked in from the road in order to keep up with the work of the Legislature. ... I remain committed to working for you in Topeka and at home. I thank you for the opportunity to serve you, your understanding and your continued support.”

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