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Archive for Saturday, April 2, 2005

Open records legislation goes to governor

April 2, 2005

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— A public employee's total compensation would be subject to public scrutiny under legislation sent Friday to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

After House and Senate negotiators worked out their differences on the bill, the House passed it, 121-2. A few hours later, the Senate voted 39-0 to send it to the governor.

Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said the governor supports open government but hasn't studied the legislation.

The measure, which changes the Kansas Open Records Act, was dubbed the "Lew Perkins Provision," after the University of Kansas athletic director. It says employment contracts or agreements must be disclosed, along with salaries.

"It's an important update to the open records law," said Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, his chamber's lead negotiator. "Public trust hinges on open government and accountability."

The bill also requires university professors to disclose consulting contracts with outside groups or companies. In addition, local prosecutors would be required to report to the attorney general's office all complaints about violations of the records law and the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Richard Gannon, a lobbyist for the Kansas Press Association, said the group was pleased, adding, "It's been a pretty good year for us."

In 2003, the Lawrence Journal-World asked the university to fully disclose Perkins' compensation package. The university refused and The World Company, which publishes the newspaper and operates cable television station 6News, filed a lawsuit last year to force disclosure. The Associated Press and the Kansas Press Association later joined the litigation.

A district judge ruled in September against the university, which then released the records. The documents included details of all of Perkins's compensation.

"The public has a right to know," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka.

The open records law requires disclosure of records of names, positions, salaries and lengths of service of public employees. However, it allows agencies to refuse to release personnel records, performance ratings or other "individually identifiable records" about employees.

The university and its athletic corporation argued the provision covered Perkins' records. but the court said all compensation records for public employees are open, even documents detailing compensation from private sources.

It also extends current exemptions to the open records law for another five years. They are due to expire July 1.

Various government records can be closed under 370 provisions of state law, including 46 in the Open Records Act. Under a 2000 law, those exceptions to the Open Records Act must be reviewed after five years. Any exception would be eliminated without legislative action to retain it.

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