'Whack-a-Mole' defines public notice fight

Posted March 3, 2023

You might call it the Kansas Legislature’s version of a game called Whack-a-Mole.

That’s how the Kansas Press Association’s staff and board feel after a series of moves during the past two weeks on public notice issues so important to the state’s newspaper industry.

Whack-a-Mole, of course, is a game that challenges participants to use a soft mallet to keep hitting a mechanical mole, only to see it reappear in another hole on the board.

Two bills addressing public notice were quickly introduced, set for hearings, then pulled after serious concerns were raised by members, staff and the KPA’s lobbying firm, 1861 Consulting.

And, according to Emily Bradbury, KPA’s executive director, the work of members whose legislators sit on the important House Local Government Committee paid off as both bills were eventually deleted from the committee’s agenda.

What is most upsetting about these legislative twists and turns is that so little time is allowed to prepare for and address the issues when they arise.

The two bills, House Bills 2324 and 2343, weren’t introduced until a few days ago.

First, KPA’s lobbying firm was told HB 2343, a bill to allow local governments and other entities to designate their own website as the “official publication,” would not get a hearing. Then, KPA learned a hearing had been set for just a few days later.

Bradbury called out the troops and asked members to submit testimony opposing the change, which essentially would have allowed municipalities to use their traditional way of notifying the public through newspaper publication or opt out and use their own website.

Several members responded with written testimony opposing the move.

Then, the day before the scheduled hearing, the chair decided not to hear the bill.

The second bill, HB 2324, would have allowed landlords to opt out of a public notice that is required when a tenant vacates a rental apartment or home and leaves possessions behind. Currently, the owner of the property must give adequate notice that abandoned possessions will be sold to satisfy the amount still owed in rent unless the former tenant makes other arrangements.

Once again, a hearing was quickly scheduled on the bill.

With opposition testimony already submitted, Bradbury received a call that the hearing scheduled for the next morning had been cancelled.

What made the difference? You did.

Member contacts with local legislators on the House Local Government Committee apparently started behind-the-scenes conversations that led to the bill being pulled from consideration.

However, we can’t become complacent, Bradbury said, because the bills are still there and capable of being reopened and amended to other bills or run on their own with little notice to our industry.

“All I can say is we need to remain vigilant,” she said. “We know our adversaries won’t give up on the public notice issue. The good news is we’re prepared now with solid opposition testimony to both these bills.”