Activist groups planning to hold protests at the Kansas Capitol next year could be required to pay hundreds of dollars, while in Missouri similar events can be hosted at the state Capitol for free.
Davis Hammet, a Topeka activist, discovered that Kansas had increased the cost of holding a rally in the Capitol while trying Thursday to finalize a booking of the Capitol rotunda for a protest in January. He was told it would cost $500.
The Kansas People’s Agenda, a coalition of progressive groups that Hammet is part of, booked the same space last January for $20.
“Many small nonprofits and citizens groups will be unable to have events in The People’s House because of this,” Hammett said in a Twitter message, contending that the rate increase is part of an effort to silence dissent at the statehouse.
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John Milburn, the spokesman for the Kansas Department of Administration, the agency in charge of maintaining state buildings, said the only intention of the price increase is to enable the state to recover operational costs from the plethora of rallies held at the Capitol each year.
“That will help us recover the cost that we incur to provide the space and cleanup that is requested,” he said. “The fee will depend on the number of people that will come in and what services are requested.”
In the years since Kansas restored its Capitol, events at the statehouse have become more common and more costly, Milburn said.
The new fee schedule goes into effect Jan. 1. While the state has charged a flat rate of $20 for any event held at the Capitol, it’ll now charge a variety of prices based on the event’s size and other factors.
“We certainly want people to hold events at the statehouse. … It had no other motive than to recover our costs,” Milburn said.
The bottom rate for an event that requires no setup or cleanup will be $50. Activists groups that want a podium and access to the public address system will have to pay a total of $100. An additional $100 on top of that will get you six tables and 30 chairs.
Setup for a larger event with chairs for 30 to 100 people will cost $300. Any event larger than that will have a negotiated price.
Hammet’s event, a citizen response to the governor’s state of the state address, is expected to draw 1,000 people. Hammet called the cost increase “absurd and suppressive.”
Ryan Burns, the spokeswoman for the Missouri Office of Administration, confirmed that Missouri does not charge groups any fee for holding rallies at the Capitol. In addition, her agency provides free of charge the same setup and cleanup services for which Kansas will soon charge extra.
“We provide them and we’re free,” Burns said. “Our facilities team is pretty amazing and they go to great lengths to make it happen.”
After Hammett voiced his frustration with the fee increase in Kansas, other prominent activists in the state also spoke out on social media.
“No question this is intended to deter people making their voices heard in OUR state capitol,” tweeted Moti Rieber, an Overland Park rabbi who serves as executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, a group that campaigns on a variety of social justice causes.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, jumped into the debate Friday morning, asking on Twitter why Kansas taxpayers should “subsidize events and rallies held at the Capitol.”
Rep. Brett Parker, an Overland Park Democrat, called the fee increase unacceptable. He said that legislation to reverse the decision could be necessary in the future, but that the best option would be for the Department of Administration to back off from the plan before the fee increase goes into effect.
Parker said that the groups that will be adversely impacted will be church groups and organizations that advocate for the disabled, while “groups that are swimming in money have any number of ways of exercising their influence in that building.”