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Archive for Friday, January 28, 2005

State officials, associations push for greater access to records

January 28, 2005

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— The unsuccessful fight waged by the University of Kansas to keep secret its athletic director's pay package could earn the Jayhawks a new place in state law.

A so-called "Lew Perkins Provision," requiring the compensation agreements of all public employees be made open to the public, was among a series of proposed changes to the Kansas Open Records Act outlined Thursday.

The package, presented by Attorney General Phill Kline, legislators and representatives of the Kansas Press Association and Kansas Association of Broadcasters, would attempt to reform the open records act by increasing public access to government activities at the state and local level, as well as organizations that receive public money.

Several media organizations, including the publisher of The Lawrence Journal-World and The Associated Press, won a lawsuit against the university requiring the school to disclose Perkins' compensation package.

Along with the Perkins provision, the changes would include a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to create any new exemption to the open meetings law. That question would be put to voters in November 2006.

Doug Anstaett, president of the Kansas Press Association, said the fight over access to the Perkins contract demonstrated the need for the constitutional amendment despite efforts over the past two decades by legislators to specify which records and meetings must be open.

"The press still encounters frequent misapplication of the law and even outright hostility in isolated cases," Anstaett said.

California, Florida, Louisiana, Montana and New Hampshire have similar constitutional amendments that require a super-majority of legislators to make changes to open records law, Kline said.

"Accountability is the cornerstone of representative government and transparency is the cornerstone of accountability," Kline said.

The package also includes creating an office of public integrity in the attorney general's office, charged with overseeing how open records complaints are disposed of by district attorneys. The package would also clarify the procedures for filing a complaint with the attorney general's office.

Other changes would require private entities that receive more than 50 percent of their operating budgets from any combination of state, federal or local governments to be subject to the records act and would redefine the "personal privacy" exemption to narrow its use. The new definition would clarify that an unwanted invasion of privacy would constitute "information that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and not of legitimate concern to the public."

Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, and chairman of the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee, said work on the package would be divided between his panel and its House companion. Huelskamp said the proposals would give more power to citizens.

"And that is the critical perspective any elected official should have on this issue -- whose government is this anyway?" he said.

In other action, the House Federal and State Affairs Committee endorsed a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and prohibit civil unions. The House is expected to debate the measure Tuesday.

Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed until Monday debate on a bill combatting methamphetamine manufacturing by limiting consumers' access to some cold, flu and allergy medicines with ingredients also used in meth.

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