Lawmakers propose tightening open records laws

? Kansas Senate Democrats plan to introduce a bill this week to close a loophole in open records laws involving private email accounts and electronic devices.

The move comes after two lobbyists with past ties to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback received a preview of his proposals for balancing the state budget in an email from his budget director through a private account weeks before Brownback formally outlined the measures for legislators.

Some Republican lawmakers said they would be open to legislation that makes private communications public records when they pertain to state business, reports The Wichita Eagle.

“There’s a transparency issue here that ought to be considered,” said Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton.

The Eagle was the first to write last week about Budget Director Shawn Sullivan’s Dec. 23 email. Among the recipients were lobbyists David Kensinger and Mark Dugan. The governor’s office has said the use of private emails to collect feedback on the budget was not an attempt to purposefully skirt the Kansas Open Records Act.

But Hineman questioned the administration’s commitment to transparency and said Sullivan’s explanation that he used private emails because he was home for the holidays “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

“I personally have access to my state email account on all my electronic devices wherever I am at any time of day. And I assume that’s true for practically everyone in state government,” Hineman said.

Brownback has resisted extending public record laws to include communications on private devices. Brownback, who mostly uses his private cellphone, said he doesn’t know how often members of his staff use private emails to conduct state business. The governor said he could probably get a state-issued phone if he wanted, but that he prefers to use his own.

His use of a private phone means that there is no accessible record of his communications with lawmakers, lobbyists, industry leaders and others on state business.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the use of personal emails and private phones showed the administration’s disregard for the spirit of the open records law. Hensley said he has requested records of state officials’ state-issued phones in the past and that Brownback’s apparent exemption raises questions.

“When you’re governor, you shouldn’t be concerned about what’s easier. You should be concerned about what’s right,” he said.