A tip of the hat is due to Jacob LaTurner, a Republican from Pittsburg, who took his seat in the Kansas Senate for the first time this month.
LaTurner has introduced a number of measures that he said he hopes will “make sure we are the most ethical, the most transparent state in the country.” His bills deal with term limits, restrictions on lobbying and nepotism, and bolstering the state’s open-government laws, including those dealing with open meetings and open records.
As might be expected, his proposals are not entirely met with open arms by his colleagues under the capitol dome. One such bill would halt the practice of government bodies charging for staff time to fulfill Kansas Open Records Act requests. The bill instead would cap those charges at the 25 cents per page copying fee the current law established. Those “staff time” charges, as the Journal-World and others have learned, can balloon into substantial estimates that deter the use of the statute — and often turn out to be either negotiable or extremely exaggerated. Although others in the Senate have voiced disagreement, LaTurner contends that the copying fee is sufficient to cover staff time.
Another provision of his proposal would require that minutes be kept at any meeting that is subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act. That seems less offensive to his fellow legislators.
If there’s one major benefit to having such measures introduced right off the bat in the legislative session, it may be that the discussion and debate will serve to inform lawmakers — especially those newly elected to their positions — about the provisions of KORA and KOMA.
Too often it’s easy for elected officials at all levels of government simply to plead ignorance of these laws after they’re caught violating them. And unfortunately, the punishment meted out in almost every instance is for the violators to get training about the laws.
Perhaps LaTurner’s bill should be amended to require all elected officials to get such training immediately upon taking office. That would effectively put them on notice about the importance of KOMA and KORA and also make clear that ignorance is no excuse for any violation. The public, after all, is hardly well-served by ignorant officeholders.