By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
TOPEKA — What many expected to be a tussle over schools using taxpayer dollars to sue the state for more funding turned into a gunfight regarding threats to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
The setting was the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee‘s Wednesday morning meeting to consider Wichita Republican Sen. Mike O’Donnell‘s SB 45. That bill would prohibit government officials from using tax dollars to fund lawsuits against local or state governments or lobby against any legal product, such as firearms or tobacco.
What followed was a robust if one-sided debate. When the smoke cleared, there was just one man opposed to SB 45: Frank Henderson, president-elect of the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Henderson’s testimony was more a statement of confusion than outrage. Among other aspects of the bill, he questioned its definition of “normal legislative relationships” between officials and lobbyists. Henderson also touched on concerns voiced by school administrators embroiled in the state’s latest education funding lawsuit, cautioning legislators against limiting schools’ access to lobbying tools used to influence lawmakers.
“If voters believe that school boards are using public funds inappropriately, board members can be removed through the electoral process,” Henderson said.
Jim Atkin, president of Oath Keepers Kansas, said he has no problem with schools exerting influence over state lawmakers — so long as they don’t make a grab for his wallet in the process.
“This bill to me is Kansas common sense at its best. I don’t appreciate any organization that uses my dollars … to try to legislate things,” Atkin said. “In my opinion, if the education system of Kansas wants to try to lobby to do anything, then they need to pull it out of their own pocket to do it.”
Henderson was met with an avalanche of testimony from proponents like Atkin, who championed the bill as a way to cut down on groups like the Kansas Board of Regents using public funding to spread anti-gun messages and lobbying initiatives.
“We believe that using taxpayer funds to lobby against a legal activity is just wrong,” said Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association. “It’s a gross misuse of taxpayer money, and we need to put an end to it.”
O’Donnell expressed frustration over what he saw as a conflict in Henderson’s argument.
“We need more money for institutions like schools, (so) you should be supportive of this. We are saving taxpayer money from going to lobby against a legal consumer product, whatever that product is,” O’Donnell said.
Henderson said no other education officials were present to oppose the bill because KASB speaks for Kansas public schools, leaving administrators and educators free to do their jobs in the classroom.