By Doug Anstaett, KPA lobbyist
The Kansas Legislature kicked off its 2020 session this week, and we’ve already got issues of interest to Kansas newspapers.
The first, House Bill 2424, filed by Rep. David Benson, D-Overland Park, seeks to change the way records are handled following officer-involved death, whether it be a shooting or a traffic incident.
Benson proposed the bill in the wake of a shooting in 2018 when an Overland Park teenager in crisis was shot and killed as he backed the family’s van out of his garage.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe ruled the shooting justified, but the family successfully sued in civil court, the city settled and awarded $2.3 million to the family.
Sheila Albers, mother of the victim, told media representatives in Topeka on Monday that she has never seen any public records of the incident beyond two of the four police videos recorded during the shooting.
Rep. Benson’s bill seeks to open records when in similar instances no charges are filed.
The bill requires a written policy regarding how an investigation will take place, that two independent investigators independent look into the incident and that a complete report be provided to the county or district attorney.
If at that point, the county or district attorney determines there is no basis to prosecute the officer, the report must be made public with redactions of information otherwise protected from disclosure.
This bill, filed by Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, seeks to open up records concerning the state child death review board.
While the bill seems to open up information compiled by the review board to law enforcement, district and county attorneys, legislators and a host of other governmental agencies, it doesn’t include public access except for what is now included in its annual report, which involves mostly statistical information.
Previously, records of the review board were deemed confidential except for legislative committees dealing with such issues.
This bill, filed on behalf of Sen. Jim Denning, R-Olathe, on behalf of Secretary of State Scott Schwab, would change the language for publication of constitutional amendments from one newspaper in each county in the state to “a newspaper of general circulation in each county.”
We believe this is an attempt to allow for publication in newspapers that have multi-county circulation, bypassing the one newspaper per county rule. We will obviously oppose
The Kansas Press Association, Kansas Association of Broadcasters, Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and Kansas Institute for Governmental Transparency have joined to support a change in the way Kansas Open Records Act requests are handled.
The four groups are still looking for a sponsor of this legislation, so there is currently no bill number.
State law is rather vague on what can be charged for researching and then providing public records. The proposed language would:
• Not allow charges for searches to determine if a public record exists.
• The rate charged shall be the lowest hourly rate of the person qualified to produce the records.
• The record custodian may exercise discretion to waive the costs if the request is deemed to be in the public interest. A request would be deemed to be in the public interest if disclosure of the requested documents is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
The bill proposed during the 2019 legislative session, HB 2237, is still alive because of the two-year term of the Kansas Legislature.
The bill would have allowed cities, counties and school districts to place their public notices on a website. We were able to keep the bill bottled up in committee, but it still could be resurrected during the session.