Bill would put State Library under Legislature’s control

The Kansas State Library at the Kansas Statehouse, July 23, 2014, in Topeka.

? A bill pending in the Senate would make a big change to an agency that is one of the smallest in state government, yet one that has a big impact on other agencies and communities throughout the state, the Kansas State Library.

Housed on the third floor of the Statehouse, in the west wing between the House and Senate chambers, the State Library holds collections of law books, statutes, legislative records and other material critical for operations of the Legislature.

It also provides support for public libraries in communities throughout Kansas, giving them access to online databases and a wide range of other services that many would not be able to afford.

Jo Budler, Kansas State Librarian

Despite the fact that much of its day-to-day responsibility has to do with legislative business, however, the State Library has been organized under the executive branch of government since the days of the Kansas Territory. Today, the State Librarian and most of the library’s 14-member board of trustees are appointed by the governor.

“While the State Library is currently under the executive branch, the major portion of the services it provides is related to the Kansas Legislature,” Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee Tuesday.

Hensley is the author of a bill that would put the State Library under direct control of the Legislature. It would give the Legislative Coordinating Council, which includes House and Senate leaders from both parties, the power to hire and fire the State Librarian. It would also abolish the current board of trustees and form a new board, with most of its members appointed by the Legislative Coordinating Council.

State Librarian Jo Budler, who has held the job since 2010, gave neutral testimony on the bill, but she said she agreed that much of the library’s day-to-day job involves supporting the Legislature.

As in current law, however, one seat on the board would be reserved for a member of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Kansas, the state chapter of an international organization that was instrumental in helping establish community libraries throughout the country in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Budler, a former state librarian in the Ohio Statehouse, was appointed to the post by former Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat. When Republican Sam Brownback came into office in 2011, Budler had to resign and reapply for the job.

Currently, there are four other state agencies that are considered legislative branch agencies: Legislative Administrative Services; the Revisor of Statutes; Legislative Research; and the Division of Legislative Post Audit.

Hensley noted that the Legislative Coordinating Council already appoints the heads of the Revisor of Statutes office and Legislative Research. The Post Audit division works under the direct supervision of a joint legislative committee.

If Hensley’s bill were to become law, however, the State Library might become the only agency in which the Legislature designates not just the agency head, but also its entire governing board.

The Federal and State Affairs Committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.