Various loopholes may limit the impact of a bill that bans the use of state funds to promote or oppose gun-control measures, but the measure reflects a disregard for free speech that should concern Kansas residents.
The bill, which is on its way to the governor after winning approval Tuesday in the Kansas House, would prevent local governments and school districts from using state tax dollars to hire lobbyists to influence gun-control issues. The measure had the strong backing of the National Rifle Association, which uses considerable private money to promote its position on guns.
The bill passed this week addresses only gun control issues, but some legislators already have said they would like to pursue broader restrictions on the use of state funds for lobbying efforts. Earlier this year, legislators considered trying to prohibit the use of state dollars to express an opinion on legislation dealing with “any legal product.” However, they apparently realized that such a broad mandate could affect such things as the state health department promoting less tobacco use or state highway officials working to decrease drunken driving.
Nonetheless, at least some legislators believe the legislation that passed could prevent a state entity like the Kansas Board of Regents from providing advocacy or testimony on gun issues on state university campuses.
The measure raises unsettling questions about support for free speech in the state. Why would state legislators want to limit the range of viewpoints and information they receive on any measure they are considering?
The effort to restrict lobbying apparently grew out of some legislators’ displeasure at school districts hiring lobbyists to seek additional state funding. Why shouldn’t public school districts be allowed to take their case for increased funding to the Legislature? Why shouldn’t state universities be allowed to hire lobbyists to speak on their behalf?
It would be easy enough for either K-12 schools or state universities to show that any money they spent on lobbying came from non-state sources, but why would legislators want to send such a speech-stifling message to Kansas residents?
Passage of this measure may be an indication that lawmakers didn’t have enough to keep them busy while they waited on the governor and legislative leaders to hammer out a compromise on taxes and the state budget. It’s another reason for the Legislature to wrap up its essential business and call it a day.