Kansas Senate advances legislation on open records, session length

The Senate chamber of the Kansas Statehouse is pictured July 23, 2014 in Topeka.

? The Kansas Senate advanced a bill Wednesday that would expand the Kansas Open Records Act to include documents and emails pertaining to public business, even if they’re generated or stored on personal devices.

Senate Bill 361 came in response to a controversy in 2014 when Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, used his private email account to communicate with lobbyists about the governor’s budget plan before submitting the plan to legislators.

The bill was the subject of extensive meetings over the interim involving the Kansas Judicial Council, the attorney general’s office, the Kansas Press Association and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said the bill brings the state’s open records act into the 21st century.

The bill applies to information stored on devices owned by an officer or employee of a public agency. It also removes a current exemption for part-time officers and employees.

A final vote on the bill is expected Thursday.

Length of sessions

The Senate also advanced a bill that would limit the length of legislative sessions to 100 days in even-numbered years and 60 days in odd-numbered years.

Traditionally, lawmakers try to limit sessions to 90 days. That’s the limit set in the Kansas Constitution for even-numbered years, although lawmakers can extend that limit by a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

The bill comes in the wake of last year’s record-breaking 114-day session, when lawmakers were gridlocked on budget and tax issues as the state faced a large revenue shortfall.

Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, said the bill reflects the fact that the Kansas Legislature recently shifted to passing two-year budgets, and most other states that write multiyear budgets have shorter sessions, or no session at all, in the nonbudget years.

Before advancing the bill, though, the Senate struck out provisions that would have fixed legislative salaries at set amounts, regardless of how long sessions last. It called for setting annual salaries of $8,800 in budget years and $5,400 in nonbudget years.

That’s roughly the same rate of pay lawmakers receive now, pay that King said ranks among the lowest for any state legislature in the country.

The bill would still allow lawmakers to extend sessions with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

A final vote on the bill is expected Thursday.