At least some Kansas legislators apparently aren’t interested in hearing what any local government entity has to say about how they run the state.
An amazing piece of legislation that was discussed in the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee Monday essentially would make it illegal for any public funds to be used to pay for either direct or indirect lobbying services or even membership dues in an association that engages in lobbying the Kansas Legislature. That includes elected officials, local government administrators and, potentially, any group that receives public money of any kind, such as chambers of commerce or even statewide organizations. Those people would be allowed to provide information on legislation only if they were invited to do so by a legislator.
Proponents are touting the bill as a way to protect taxpayers, but it seems more like an attempt to muzzle local officials who want to provide information or input on pending legislation. Not allowing local government officials to represent the interests of their communities is a blatant attack on the democratic process.
The proposal apparently grew out of the desire of some legislators to clamp down on school teacher unions, but the impact of this legislation goes much further than that. The bill likely would have prevented Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson from pushing for legislation that would provide stiffer penalties for drunken drivers in injury accidents. The mayor of Manhattan said during Monday’s hearing that lobbyists were essential to his city’s efforts to redevelop its airport and attract the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. Other local officials pointed out the importance of interaction between local and state officials to produce the best, most workable legislation.
The executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities said the bill effectively would outlaw his organization and other local government associations whose lobbyists testify to the Legislature. These groups play an important role for local governments — especially in smaller cities and counties — by monitoring legislation that may affect their constituents.
The assertion of Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn during Monday’s hearing that public officials who want to lobby on issues outside their “official duty” could do so on their own dime makes no sense. These public officials aren’t representing their own point of view; they are advocating for their constituents. That is their “official duty.”
Is the state Legislature also planning to outlaw the use of state money for any effort to monitor or try to influence the federal government on legislation or policies that would affect Kansas?
A representative of the Kansas State Rifle Association protested the fact that public entities could lobby against gun rights. Presumably, legislators shouldn’t be interested in what taxpayer-employed law enforcement officials have to say about gun laws.
These are just a few examples of issues on which taxpayer-supported entities and officials have both the democratic right and the public duty to initiate communication with the Legislature on behalf of their community constituents. At the end of Monday’s hearing, Committee Chairman Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said he wasn’t sure what the committee would do with the bill. Perhaps committee members should drop it in the trash and refocus their efforts on establishing a beneficial partnership with local governments rather than trying to shut them out of the legislative process.