By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — The legislative session is half over, and so far lawmakers have discussed bills that tell strippers to cover up and allow politicians to accept thousands of dollars in undocumented gifts.
But a bill to dramatically increase the public’s access to its own records has, so far, languished.
Guess it’s just not as sexy as HB 2054, which would ban lap dances and bare breasts in strip clubs. Or, it simply doesn’t have the appeal of changing the reporting threshold for gifts to state lawmakers from lobbyists; HB 2314 increases perks and shrouds some gifts in secrecy.
In addition to requiring public bodies to record minutes during meetings, the bill would limit records fees to no more than 25 cents per page and prevent public agencies from charging for staff time to fill an open records request.
“Right now, virtually anything can be charged for staff time,” LaTurner said, citing examples where he thought constituents were overcharged for access to public records.
Kansas Watchdog learned first-hand how excessive staff fees could potentially close off access to public documents. Watchdog asked for welfare transaction records, which the Kansas Department for Children and Families said would cost $406 to provide.
LaTurner’s bill was submitted before the session began. Question is, why would such a measure go untouched ?
Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, suggested Senate leaders could be to blame.
Ostmeyer, who chairs the Federal and State Affairs committee, said he was puzzled when Senate President Susan Wagle sent the bill his way, instead of the Ethics, Elections and Local Government committee. Ostmeyer said he told LaTurner he could “go ahead and introduce it (the bill), but I don’t think it’s going to see much daylight in this committee.”
Ostmeyer said he hasn’t received a specific request for a hearing on the legislation.
“I guess maybe leadership isn’t interested in it either,” Ostmeyer added.
Wagle, R-Wichita, said that isn’t the case, and she called for further discussion of SB10.
“I looked at it (the bill) and I thought it was a good proposal, I’d like to hear what both sides have to say about
it,” Wagle said, noting she sent the bill to federal and state affairs because LaTurner holds a seat on the committee, and thought it would be more likely to pass there.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, has been a skeptic of LaTurner’s bill from the start. While he’s quick to temper his criticism with his support for open records law, he fears that by eliminating staff fees small public agencies would be overrun with time-consuming, impractical open records requests.
“I just want to be careful we’re not too reactive that we could create some other problem for a state agency,” Hawk said.
However, it’s a concern already addressed in state statute. LaTurner’s bill doesn’t alter K.S.A. 45-218, which allows agencies to refuse any request “intended to disrupt other essential functions of the public agency.”
LaTurner said the federal and state committee is “exempt” from standard bill deadlines, meaning SB10 isn’t subject to the March 1 deadline. The senator remains confident his bill will receive a committee hearing.
“I think that the message is starting to get across, this is pretty popular with the people of Kansas and something needs to be done,” LaTurner said.