Senate committee discusses changes to ‘open records’ law

A Senate committee took steps Wednesday to encourage local governments to be more open about their deliberations and to reduce the cost of obtaining records from local governments.

The Committee on Federal and State Affairs discussed Senate Bill 10, which would increase local governments’ compliance with the state’s open meetings and records laws, make it easier to request information under the Kansas Open Records Act and require minutes to be taken at any local meeting where the Kansas Open Meetings Act applies.

“The intent of this bill is to make government more accessible to the average Kansan out there,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, said.

For those requesting documents subject to the open records law, LaTurner’s bill would establish a fee of no more than 10 cents per page of copied material and provide a free hour of staff time to collect information under a KORA request. Additional fees for staff time could vary between $20 and $50 per hour depending upon the employee’s job position.

Jan Jarman, of Wichita, said the bill would have been beneficial when she made an open records request after her daughter was forced to change schools. Jarman was told she would have to pay $1,000 to receive the documents. She took the money from her daughter’s college fund.

“It’s not democracy if they make it so expensive that you can’t afford to get the information that you need,” Jarman said.

SB 10 is being discussed during Sunshine Week, which is set aside each year to promote open government and the freedom of obtaining information. Although LaTurner said this timing was not planned, he thought of it as a happy coincidence.

Kim Winn, of Topeka, the deputy director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said answering open records requests isn’t as easy as it may seem. She said clerks cannot just export information out of a database because it might include private data, such as health care information and Social Security numbers.

“It does take time to answer these open records requests, and it is not as simple as ‘here’s a piece of paper,'” Winn said.