Brownback: Precautions to Ensure Lawmakers Didn't Violate Law

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TOPEKA -- In response to recent questions about legislative dinners hosted by Governor Brownback at Cedar Crest, the Governor’s Chief Counsel Caleb Stegall made the following statement: “The Kansas Open Meetings Act generally does apply to committees of the Legislature. When it applies, KOMA requires that any interactive discussion by a majority of committee members about the business or affairs of that committee be conducted in an open meeting.”

Caleb Stegall continued, “While it would not be possible for the Governor to violate KOMA in this situation because the Governor is not a body or agency of the state, the Governor did remind and admonish everyone present at the beginning of each legislative dinner that legislative committees must be aware of and comply with all KOMA requirements. The Governor and the Governor’s staff further explained to legislators present that they could not conduct any discussions about committee business during the dinners.”

The Governor’s Legislative Liaison, former Speaker of the House Tim Shallenburger, who attended each of the functions, added: “At the beginning of the first dinner, on January 9, Governor Brownback stood up and admonished everyone to keep the requirements of KOMA in mind. The Governor went so far as to ask Senate President Morris to assist in ensuring that legislative members not cross that line. Senator Morris agreed and so far as I am aware he succeeded. The Governor and his staff have followed this general protocol at each legislative dinner.”

In 2009 then Attorney General Steve Six wrote that: “’[I]nteractive communication,’ for the purposes of KOMA, requires a mutual or reciprocal exchange between members of a body or agency subject to KOMA. Accordingly, ‘interactive communication’ does not occur when a non-member of a body or agency communicates with a majority of that body or agency board and a member responds and shares the response with other members.

"Should there be further interactive communications among a majority of the members concerning the business of the body, and there is an intent by any or all of the participants to reach agreement on a matter that would require binding action, those communications are subject to KOMA.” Kansas Attorney General Opinion No. 2009-22

Stegall added: “We consulted with the written guidance provided by the Kansas Attorney General’s office, specifically, the guidance that it is not a violation of KOMA for a majority of a body or agency to attend an informative meeting sponsored by another group so long as they do not privately discuss the business or affairs of the body amongst themselves. Reasonable precautions were taken to remind all attendees of their obligations and to prevent any violations of Kansas law.”