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Archive for Friday, January 21, 2005

Democratic leader outlines meetings proposals

January 21, 2005

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— Legislators could no longer meet in closed caucuses and task forces formed by incoming governors and local elected officials would have to hold meetings in public under proposals outlined Thursday by the Senate's top Democrat.

Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee that his proposals would make government more open. Chairman Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said he would let the legislation "simmer a while" before scheduling a vote.

One of Hensley's proposals, concerning task forces appointed by incoming governors, is a response to the dispute over Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' appointment of policy teams before she took office in January 2003.

Her teams didn't schedule public meetings before she took office, and 14 news organizations, including The Associated Press, the Kansas Press Association and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, sued seeking access. The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled the meetings didn't have to be open until Sebelius took office.

"This is something we do need to talk about," Hensley said.

Spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said Sebelius, a Democrat, hasn't reviewed Hensley's proposals but added, "Obviously, the governor supports doing business in the light of day."

The bill also would require incoming city council members, county commissioners and school board members to have public meetings, as well as task forces formed by local governments. Two years ago, a similar proposal generated concerns from local officials.

Still, Sandra Jacquot, a lobbyist for the League of Kansas Municipalities, said her group hasn't reviewed Hensley's proposal but added, "For the most part, we wouldn't oppose it."

Lobbyists for the broadcasters and press association liked Hensley's ideas.

"Open government is the best way to do things," said Doug Anstaett, the press association's executive director.

Two years ago, Hensley proposed forcing legislative caucuses to have open meetings, without success. Most are open, but Senate Republicans have occasionally closed their meetings to discuss issues.

Hensley also wants to require the Senate Organization, Calendar and Rules Committee to have public meetings. The all-GOP panel appoints committee chairmen and makes committee assignments

"If you're going to have that frank discussion, it would be impeded by the fact that it might show up in the paper," Brungardt said.

But Brungardt said he's not ruling out committee action on the measure and will wait to see how much other senators object.

"We just have to let it simmer for just a while," Brungardt said.

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