Archive for Sunday, February 1, 2015

Lawmakers propose tightening open records laws

February 1, 2015, 3:54 p.m. Updated February 2, 2015, 10:07 p.m.

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— 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.

Comments

Brock Masters 2 years, 10 months ago

I understand and support the reason for the bill, just wonder how they will craft it to meet the intent without throwing privacy under the bus?

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 10 months ago

Referring to: "private e-mail accounts and electronic devices"
(Telephones are electronic devices!)

"Some Republican lawmakers have said they would be open to legislation that makes private communications public records when they pertain to state business."

How would private communications that do or do not pertain to state business be sorted out?

Except for flagging by the sender, there is only one way. Big Brother will have to read or listen to all of the private electronic communications, and then make a decision about whether they will be published for everyone to read or listen to.

Of course, Big Brother's decision will be highly subjective, as there are a lot of gray areas. What if an electronic private communication also includes personal information or a private message about something other than state business? If there is any highly personal information inadvertently included, the prurient interests of the public might be catered to. That would be very interesting, but it's my opinion we have too much of that published in easily available locations already.

The way the proposed bill is discussed in this article makes it sound as though it will bring us one step closer to 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', although George Orwell was quite a few years early.

The only way a bill such as this should be considered if it is very carefully crafted to allow private information to remain private.

Lawrence Freeman 2 years, 10 months ago

I'm not sure I agree. Politicians are public servants and required to conduct public business openly. brownbacks administration can't stand the thought of doing anything in public view, most likely because nothing he does is for the public welfare.

If they are honest and have nothing to hide, they should have no problem and this is the exact opposite of 1984. This is people watching their government.

Greg Cooper 2 years, 10 months ago

In a democracy, there is no way this bill can be even presented for consideration. There is no mention of national security, there is no ongoing investigation into a crime, there is no reason that private calls should be monitored, except for those things.

I understand that this is one of the most secretive and closed administrations ever crafted, but it still remains to the people, the press, and interested parties to ferret out hints of wrongdoing. We can NOT go around monitoring private phone calls in the hopes of finding something illegal, for many reasons, not the least of which is that privacy is privacy unless it impinges on the security of the individual, state or nation, or investigation of an identified crime that has the earmarks of being at least partially committed by telephone.

The final argument is, "Who will watch the watchers?"

Lawrence Freeman 2 years, 10 months ago

Even though I'm retired I would take that job! ;) I don't think they are talking about constant monitoring, just the ability to request personal records if they have cause and brownbacks admin has given plenty of reasons.

Phillip Chappuie 2 years, 10 months ago

Although I'm in agreement that there is probably not much to do about private accounts, it is certainly entertaining to the rats scurrying about in such a manner. Sullivan was home on holidays. Yeah, right. Brownie likes to use his private phone for official business. Un-huh. Rats scurrying about wondering if the ship is starting to take on water.

Greg Cooper 2 years, 10 months ago

Some good thoughts, Phillip and Lawrence, but I'm really concerned with this. The logistics of the bill are really unclear, and the actual picking and choosing of the calls actually monitored would be nightmarish.

All that said, I know, and probably everybody knows, that some private calls are aimed at circumventing, breaking, bending, and plain getting around the sunshine laws we already have. But the actual use of this bill, should it become law, gives me chills. Besides, what calls would be monitored? Those that point to activity already illegal or those that point to activity contemplated? Who decides? What criteria indicate that private conversations even need to be monitored?

The real issue here is that we don't trust our representatives to actually represent our best interests. Nor do many of those representatives trust us to go alo0ng with their hidden agenda.For that, we have redress, in elections, in press coverage, in individuals who "whistle blow". But determining who and what to monitor is a Pandora's box that would best be left unopened, in my opinion.

Lawrence Freeman 2 years, 10 months ago

I think you and Ron are jumping at shadows. I don't think they are talking about monitoring phone calls. Rather they probably want records of who was called and when as well as access to emails sent from private electronics. Most likely to lobbyists, other legislators and maybe campaign donors.

Greg Cooper 2 years, 10 months ago

Well, moot point, as the bill was not passed.

But, I still say that determining what communications are suspect would entail a lot of clandestine, uncontrollable prying that I can't see anyone having the ability to control.

But, you're probably right.

James Howlette 2 years, 10 months ago

If the intent is just to stop back room deals with lobbyists through private emails and personal phones, just make that the law. No public business from personal numbers/emails. You don't need to monitor their private accounts. They just need to know that if/when they're caught, they're going to be charged with a crime.

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