TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A series of articles published by the Kansas City Star paints Kansas as one of the most secretive states in the nation.
“We serve the people, so we need to be open and transparent as much as possible,” said Republican Senator Jeff Longbine of Emporia.
The Star article cites unknown authors on bills and lawmakers using a process called 'gut and go' to pass laws using unrelated bills. But Longbine says things are changing.
“I think we’re more transparent than what that article led people to believe,” he said. “The gut and go process has probably been abused.”
Senate President Susan Wagle’s office told 13 NEWS she put out a memo last session that all bills will be debated by the full body publicly, and any action on general orders will be posted online at least a day in advance.
But others say the issue goes beyond the legislature to the administration.
A former agency spokesperson who asked to remain anonymous told 13 NEWS almost every news released had to go through Governor Sam Brownback’s press office, and “Any negative connotation were to be kept at a minimum or not spoken at all. If it was something remotely negative, the media would have to come to us and ask the right question.”
We asked Brownback’s office for a response, but they did not reply to our email.
The Star article also cited sources with stories of the Kansas Department for Children and Families hiding allegations of abuse, shredding notes and forcing parents to sign gag orders. Ongoing questions about DCF led to a legislative post audit investigation, and a new oversite committee. In a written statement to 13 NEWS, D.C.F. spokesperson Taylor Forrest said “We are committed to transparency and are happy to share information publicly when it does not endanger the privacy of the victims, children and families.”
The Star's report also cites laws crafted to restrict information, such as the one governing release of police body camera footage. In Topeka, the family of Dominque White is fighting to see the footage from when he was shot and killed by officers September 28th.
We asked to talk to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt about the law. His spokesperson Jennifer Montgomery deferred to the legislature.
“We’ve got to find some balance in that, and that’s the difficult part. We would probably be better off if the courts gave us some direction on what they would consider a tainted jury, or evidence that would taint a jury based on early release of video. If we could get some direction on that we could probably clear some of that up,” Sen. Longbine said.
Longbine also said lawmakers have made changes in the laws to make local governing bodies be more transparent about executive sessions. They now must give reasons before entering the session.