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Archive for Wednesday, December 29, 1999

KANSAS TRAILS OTHER STATES IN CONSUMER LOBBYING

December 29, 1999

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The number of registered lobbyists whose sole clients are Kansas consumers is zero.

Florida, Texas and New York each have three or more consumer watchdog groups, and 24 states have a local branch of the U.S. Public Research Interest Group.

But Kansas lags behind other states. It has no organized lobbying group to bend lawmakers' ears on behalf of consumers.

That's one reason, Statehouse denizens say, that the issue of automatic teller machine fees and other consumer issues have such a low profile in legislative debates.

Rebecca Rice, an attorney and contract lobbyist, said the lack of a state consumer lobby is a problem symptomatic of the larger problem of political apathy.

"I think it's a terrible problem in Kansas," Rice said. "I think it's also a problem nationwide."

On issues such as banning ATM fees, the average Kansas consumer does not have a lobbyist. That contrasts with the seven banks and three banking associations that were registered to lobby for their business interests in 1999.

Iowa, the only state to ban ATM fees, may seem a lot like Kansas, but when it comes to citizen advocacy the states are polar opposites, Rice said. While Iowa is a public-oriented, progressive state, Kansans tend to be a bit fatalistic, or they may have more confidence in legislators to protect their interests.

"I think it's partly because Kansas has a small population and people feel like they know their legislators," she said.

Mary Tritsch of the Kansas attorney general's office said other than the office's consumer fraud protection division and the Kansas Better Business Bureau, she didn't know of any consumer protection organizations in the state.

"We hope it's because we're doing a good job and educating consumers of their rights," Tritsch said.

Rice said she's particularly puzzled why college students aren't more politically active.

"Where have all the college students gone?" she said. "Students are not involved and angry and doing stuff -- they're not expressing outrage," she said. "If they're not doing that now, they're not going to do it at 30. Kids don't vote anymore.

"Kids need to care about something, I don't care what it is," she said. "They need to get the lead out of their butts and get over to Topeka."

-- Katrina Hull is a journalism student at Kansas University and on an internship at the Journal-World.

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