Kansas Lawmakers Approve Changes In Election, Lobbying Laws
Kansas would make it easier for candidates to spread their messages through social media and would require lobbyists to publicly disclose whether tax dollars are financing their activities under a measure that received final legislative approval Sunday.
A 66-48 vote in the House for the elections and lobbying bill sends it to Gov. Sam Brownback for his possible signature after the Senate approved the measure Saturday.
Also Sunday, senators approved a proposed $131 million budget for the state's court system for the fiscal year beginning July 1, sending it to the House for consideration. Senators had rejected the same measure Saturday, but seven GOP members reconsidered their opposition overnight, and the chamber advanced it 25-14.
Here is a closer look at the legislative developments:
Conservative Republican lawmakers have pushed for years for more public disclosure about lobbying of the Legislature by cities, counties and school districts.
The bill approved Sunday would require additional disclosures by lobbyists starting in 2017. In reports they file with the secretary of state's office, they'd have to disclose whether they're receiving any funds from a governmental entity or an association for government officials that receives public funds.
"It's more transparency," said Republican Rep. Keith Esau, of Olathe. "People want to know if their government is lobbying against them and (lobbying) to get more money."
But Republican Rep. Don Hineman, of Dighton, said he doubts there will be "much tangible benefit" from such reports. He voted against the bill.
CAMPAIGNING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Another change in the bill would revise election laws to account for the rise of social media. It would waive a requirement that a candidate's message contain a disclaimer saying who paid for it, along with the name of the campaign treasurer, if the message is limited to 200 characters or less on social media.
Tweets are limited to 140 characters.
Lawmakers from both parties said the change is common sense.
"What if your treasurer's name is Schmittenhouse or something?" Esau said.
Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer of Wichita said he voted for the elections and lobbying bill primarily because it also would increase the filing fees paid by candidates, lobbyists and political committees.
The changes would raise $51,000 during the next fiscal year to help finance the state Governmental Ethics Commission's operations.
Legislative candidates' fees would rise by $15, to $125 from $110 for a Senate candidate and to $100 from $85 for a House candidate.
"We need to make sure the ethics commission is funded," Sawyer said.
COURT SYSTEM'S BUDGET
The issue in the debate over the court system's budget was a year-old law that gives local judges more say in the administration of district courts at the Kansas Supreme Court's expense.
The law has judges in each court district pick their chief judges; previously, the Supreme Court assigned them.
The state constitution says the Supreme Court "shall have general administrative authority" over the courts. Critics see the law as a slap at the high court because of past rulings lawmakers haven't liked.
A south-central Kansas judge filed a lawsuit against the statute in Shawnee County District Court earlier this year. The bill approved Sunday includes a clause which was also included in last year's budget that says if any part of the statute is struck down, so is the funding for the court system.
Some senators took issue with that clause, and the chamber initially voted 21-18 Saturday against a version of the bill drafted by negotiators. The action seemed to force more talks.
But on Sunday, seven GOP senators who'd voted no reconsidered, allowing the measure to pass on a second try. Republican Sen. Michael O'Donnell of Wichita said he changed his mind after talking to local district court judges.
The House still must approve the measure for it to go to Brownback.