Legislature bogged down by education funding issue

April 12, 2018

The latest Kansas legislative session was burdened from the beginning by a state Supreme Court ruling that education funding was both inadequate and unfairly distributed.

So it was no big surprise that other topics took a back seat in the process this session.

“That’s what happens when you try to cram everything into the final week,” said Doug Anstaett, Kansas Press Association executive director. “Bad things happen.”

As you might recall, on our Day at the Statehouse in February we stood side-by-side with the new governor, Jeff Colyer, to sign off on a number of executive orders designed to make the executive branch of government more open.

“It was our attempt to tell the governor and legislators that we are willing to stand with them when they do work that is good for Kansas,” Anstaett said. “The only problem? Legislators came up with several bills to promote transparency, but most of them have either not even gotten a hearing or been held back as bargaining chips.

“Legislators — especially the leadership — love their rules and regs. They embrace bundling of bills as the only way to get ‘good’ legislation through the process. They defend ‘gut and go’ as a useful tool. And they still balk at efforts to reform the process.”

So what — so far, anyway — has been accomplished in the way of transparency and other issues important to KPA?

Not much.

Almost everything is still in limbo as we take a few weeks off and prepare for the veto session.

But here is the status of the bills we’ve been following this year, listed in no particular order.

You may notice some of the bill numbers have changed. That is the result of gut and go and bundling of bills.

HB 2571, SB 360 and SB 361

All three bills addressed the disclosure of body and vehicle cam videos to the public.

Legislators decided to advance HB 2571, but gutted much of it in the process. There was no appetite for opening up these videos to the public this year.

However, KPA and other advocates decided a small victory was better than none, so we acceded to amendments that offered the videos only to members of the family of the victim within 20 days of a request. We did this with the promise the issue would be sent to the Kansas Judicial Council for review.

It sits in a conference committee, probably to be bundled with other legislation.

SBs 392 and 393

The bills, introduced by Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, addressed minutes, introduction of bills and recording of all votes in committees.

They did not receive a hearing.

HB 2247

The bill authorizing legal publications on internet websites, heard in 2017, died in committee.

HB 2338

A bill to make comment sessions of the prison review board private.

A hearing was held in 2017, but no action this year, although it could become part of a bill bundle during the veto session.

HB 2625

This bill, opposed by KPA, made access to records of the central registry of all Kansas law enforcement officers more difficult.

It passed the House.

H Sub for SB 336

This bill was a gut and go. It was replaced with language from HB 2728 and SB 295 and relates to the release of information after the fatality of a child in need of care.

The bill is in a conference committee and was bundled with the annual legislative review of exceptions to disclosure of public records.

SB 350 and HB 2548

Bills sponsored by Sen. Tom Hawk and Rep. Stephanie Clayton would require bill requests to include the name of the requester. Neither bill got a hearing.

HB 2562

This bill would dramatically increase the number of committees rooms with audio and video streaming.

We understand the bill is languishing because of a dispute between House leadership and its sponsor.