Gov. Sam Brownback has reversed a policy that would have forced activists to pay hundreds of dollars to hold protests and other events at the Kansas Capitol this year after pressure from legislative leaders and advocacy groups.
The Kansas Department of Administration, the agency that oversees state buildings, enacted a new fee schedule this month that increased the cost of holding an event at the Capitol from a flat rate of $20 to as much as $500 or more depending on the size of an event.
Critics saw the change as an effort to deter activism at the statehouse.
On Friday, three days before the Kansas legislative session kicks off, Brownback announced that the state would be returning to the flat rate of $20 after legislative leaders sent a letter in opposition to the policy last month.
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“We’re appreciative of the governor changing direction there,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican. “It’s the people’s house. We need to hear from them.”
The fee increase was first reported by The Star in November after Davis Hammet, a Topeka activist, raised concerns about the agency charging a coalition of progressive groups $500 to hold a rally during the first week of the session — 25 times last year’s $20 fee.
“Fighting this consumed so much of my time the last few months, but we won! We can again use OUR HOUSE to make OUR DEMANDS!” Hammet said on Twitter after Brownback’s office announced the policy reversal.
He said the Kansas People’s Agenda rally would take place in the Capitol rotunda on Wednesday.
The release from Brownback’s office said groups that had already paid the increased rate to book an event would receive a refund.
“Since the Statehouse renovation was completed, the Department of Administration has witnessed increased staffing and maintenance costs related to greater demand for use of the Statehouse throughout the year. The fee increases were designed to recover those additional costs,” the release from Brownback’s office said.
Brownback will provide additional money in his budget to pay for the cost of events at the Capitol as an alternative to the fee increase.
Missouri does not charge residents to hold protests or other events.