Listening to the people of Kansas should be Job 1 for all members of the Kansas Legislature. That means listening both to the people who agree with them and those who don’t — not trying to figure out how to silence those who hold a different opinion.
This issue arose recently during a Kansas House hearing on a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from setting their own restrictions on the open carry of firearms and knives and ban them from using tax dollars to administer gun buyback programs. Logically, one would think that city and county government representatives might have some pertinent perspectives to offer to this debate.
However, when Mike Taylor, a lobbyist for the Unified Government of Kansas City and Wyandotte County, showed up to testify against the bill, he was confronted by Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, who said Taylor, simply by speaking on behalf of Wyandotte County, may be violating a new state law. That law, which took effect last summer, prohibits the use of state dollars for lobbying or other forms of advocacy on gun-control issues. Although Taylor said he was being paid by local tax dollars, Hildabrand said he was considering asking Attorney General Derek Schmidt for a legal opinion on whether Taylor had violated the law.
If he did, there’s something wrong with the law.
It’s never been clear how the law would be enforced because it includes no penalties for violations. Nonetheless, as illustrated by Hildabrand’s complaint, the measure can be used to try to stifle debate and, specifically, any input from local governments or other state entities, including state universities, on gun control legislation.
The law sets a troubling precedent. The measure passed last year relates only to gun control, but what if legislators seek to apply similar restrictions on other controversial issues? Do state legislators believe their knowledge of local government and what’s best for the state is so complete that they have no need to hear from anyone who may disagree with their opinion?
It’s said that, in the nation’s current politically polarized atmosphere, most people choose to get their news and information only from sources that they know will reinforce their own political viewpoints. That may be an acceptable choice for the average citizen, but it’s not an acceptable choice for the state’s elected representatives. Like it or not, legislators have a duty to listen not only to those who agree with them, but also those who don’t.
Hildabrand said his understanding of the new Kansas law is that “taxpayer money can’t be used to lobby against the 2nd Amendment because that is a constitutional law.” While they’re talking about the U.S. Constitution, maybe legislators also should consider the 1st Amendment and its guarantee of free speech.