New Kansas governor to impose new open-government policies

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer will lower the cost of obtaining state records and make more information about agency meetings and operations available online, a top aide said Wednesday ahead of his first major policy speech.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, Gov. Jeff Colyer waves after being sworn in as the 47th governor of Kansas during a ceremony at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Colyer is expected to outline proposals for making state government more transparent during an address to the Legislature, on Wednesday, Feb. 7. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

Colyer spokeswoman Kara Fullmer confirmed some details of Colyer’s plans to issue executive orders on transparency issues before the new Republican governor gave a joint address to a joint session of the House and Senate.

Many lawmakers also were hoping that Colyer would spell out where he stands on public school funding. His speech was widely viewed as his follow-up to the State of the State address from former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback last month.

Colyer, formerly lieutenant governor, replaced Brownback last week when Brownback resigned to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Lawmakers are hoping for “more than just simple platitudes,” said state Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Fairway Republican.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican, added: “Everyone is going to want to know exactly where he stands on school finance.”

Colyer told reporters last week that he would roll out proposals designed to make state government more open, without providing specifics. Lawmakers already are working on a raft of proposals to strengthen lobbying, ethics and open-government laws, including one bill reviewed by a committee Wednesday that would require all legislative committee meetings to televised, starting in 2020.

The governor scheduled a Thursday news conference to formally issue his executive orders on transparency.

One would allow individuals and groups seeking government documents to obtain the first 100 pages free, while another would limit officials’ use of private email when doing state business, Fullmer said. Colyer also plans to establish a website where information about government meetings and associated documents will be posted and to set performance goals for state agencies, with data their progress available to the public, she said.

But Colyer and lawmakers also must respond to a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to increase spending on public schools. The court ruled in October that the more than $4 billion a year the state provides in aid to its 286 school districts is insufficient under the state constitution, even with an increase approved last year.

Brownback proposed phasing in an additional $513 million increase in aid over five years, relying only on growth in state revenues to cover the cost. Many Republican legislators considered the plan financially reckless, arguing that the state won’t be able to sustain the extra spending without a tax increase or deep cuts elsewhere in the budget.

“We have been delivered a budget that’s underwater in two years, and, so if he’d like to make corrections to that, we’d be very appreciative,” Wagle said.

Democratic state Rep. John Alcala, of Topeka, said he’s looking for signs that Colyer is willing to work with Democrats on issues such as school funding and expanding the state’s Medicaid program to provide health coverage to up to 180,000 more poor adults. Colyer has opposed Medicaid expansion.

“I have my doubts because he’s been a bystander, locked in step with Brownback for a long period of time,” Alcala said.