Following a slow start, activity picked up in recent days at the Kansas Legislature, at least as far as Kansas Press Association issues are concerned.
While Senate President Susan Wagle continued to block movement on Medicaid expansion in protest of the Kansas House’s failure to pass a constitutional amendment allowing legislators the power to limit abortion, a number of hearings finally took place on other issues.
Here is a rundown of bills the KPA is following and their status as of today:
• SB 434 — This is a bill supported by the KPA, Kansas Association of Broadcasters and the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. To view the bill, click here.
The bill would attempt to get a handle on costs associated with requests for public records. If approved as written, it would limit how much can be charged for searching for and producing records. It also would allow for fees to be waived if the KORA request was “in the public interest.”
It was introduced this week and sent to the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee.
Just this week, Attorney General Derek Schmidt found the city of Frontenac in violation of KORA because it quoted outrageous rates to gain access to the records there following a purge of several city employees last September.
Schmidt ruled what the city had proposed to charge for access to records of those actions was unreasonable and that formal action was warranted to remedy the city’s violation of KORA .
Schmidt did not order the records produced, but his finding includes a cease and desist order from any further violation of KORA by the Frontenac City Council, requires updating city policies to comply with KORA and for members of the council and other city officials to attend at least 90 minutes of training on the open records act.
• HB 2424 and HB 2667 — These two bills were designed to change the way law enforcement handles officer-involved shootings.
A hearing on Tuesday pitted the families of victims and media against law enforcement, the county and district attorneys association and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Sheila Albers, whose son John was shot and killed by an Overland Park police officer two years ago, testified in favor of the bill because she was not provided any records other than two dashcam videos following the shooting.
Albers said when the Johnson County district attorney summarized his reasons for not charging the officer, it included inaccurate information that a court later cited in denying a motion to dismiss when she filed a civil lawsuit. The family was awarded $2.3 million when the city and its insurance company decided to settle.
The likelihood is the issue will be sent to the Kansas Judicial Council for an interim study.
• SB 254 — This bill, brought on behalf of the Secretary of State’s office, would change the way constitutional amendments are published in Kansas newspapers.
Rather than publish in one newspaper in each county in Kansas, the bill as written would allow the secretary to choose newspapers that had general circulation in each Kansas county. That would be beneficial to large circulation newspapers, but detrimental to smaller newspapers in rural areas.
After KPA objected to the change, Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee chair Bud Estes, R-Dodge City, asked the two parties to get together and work out differences.
The Secretary of State’s office agreed to leave the requirement as is and we have agreed to language that pays for the publication out of the general fund instead of the Secretary of State’s budget.
“This is a win-win and keeps constitutional amendments in newspapers in all 105 counties,” said Doug Anstaett, KPA lobbyist.
• SB 254 — This bill would allow those owning self-storage units to choose either newspaper publication or some other “commercially reasonable manner” to publicize that a unit was about to be sold because the rent hadn’t been paid. Unfortunately, the bill has passed out of the House. KPA will try to amend it or block it on the Senate side.
• SB 397, which if approved would tax digital streaming services and digital subscriptions.
• HB 2562. which would remove the requirement that a treasurer’s name be included on political advertising.
• SB 310, which would require verified paper ballots during elections.