With open government at stake, we call Kansas lawmakers to account
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state.. Max Kautsch is an attorney whose practice focuses on First Amendment rights and open government law.
Following one of more controversial and legislative sessions with veto In recent memory, our state’s lawmakers and their constituents have had a few weeks to reflect. I hope we all think about more than just Why some bills passed and some did not. Looking closely at this issue has become increasingly frustrating because of the operation of the Legislative Assembly.
Maybe we should think more about How? ‘Or’ What these legislative results are the result of a deeply flawed legislative process in desperate need for reform.
I started my position as president of the Kansas Coalition for Open Government at the beginning of this month. The coalition, formerly known as the Sunshine Coalition, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that, since its inception in 1999, has helped make Kansas government more transparent.
As the lawyer legal hotline for the Kansas Press Association and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, I’ve been on the coalition board since 2015. The organization serves as resource for kansas with questions about the transparency of their state and local government.
More recently, the coalition formulated eight basic ideas for legislative reform which were included in a article published on the Kansas Reflector website on May 8. These eight proposed reforms are to streamline and make more transparent the process by which bills become law. These suggestions were:
- Limit the number of invoices that can be grouped.
- Introduce a requirement that all bills must have undergone a public hearing in order to be considered by the Committee of the Whole.
- Limit the “trip and go” to bills on the same subject that have been the subject of a public hearing.
- Require that the public be notified of a bill hearing 48 hours before the hearing.
- Require that all hearing testimony be posted online before a bill is considered by the full committee, or within 48 hours of the end of a hearing.
- Require that every legislator have access to the wording of the bill before voting on a bill.
- Give equal time to each person testifying before a committee, not equal time per side.
- Require the name of the legislator sponsoring a bill.
The coalition put together eight basic ideas for legislative reform that were included in an article posted on the Kansas Reflector website on May 8. These eight proposed reforms involve streamlining and making more transparent the process by which bills become law.
The Reflector tells me that by his parameters, the May 8 article was widely read, and it led to a column of the Reflector‘s Clay Wirestone on May 17 focusing on the eight reforms. But the returns of the legislators themselves?
“Crickets,” reports editor Sherman Smith.
Kansas voters cannot allow our elected leaders to avoid this crucial issue. Indeed, to achieve the best possible government for the people of this state, and to prove that our legislators are acting in the public interest and not their own, they must, at a minimum, show a willingness to accept the suggestions of section of May 8 to improve the Legislative process.
After all, if elected leaders are not responsive to the concerns of their constituents, why should they stay in office?
The coalition will send an email this week from [email protected] to each of the lawmakers asking, “Do you support any of the eight legislative reforms suggested in the ReflectorThe articles published on May 8 and 17? Why or why not?”
To ensure that all legislators receive the email, the coalition contacted the legislature’s information technology department, and I’m reasonably certain that the messages will not go to the legislators’ spam folders. At the very least, we should know if they check their email when not in session.
You can expect a response report in about a month in this space. Until then, think about how the Legislative Assembly passes these bills, not just why.
Ask yourself: Would I like to know more about how laws are made? If the answer is yes, encourage your legislator to respond to the coalition’s email. And keep their answers in mind as you vote in August and November.
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