Residents across the Sunflower State have been weighing in on the secrecy inside state government in Kansas.
They’ve called their elected officials, told of their own experiences with a lack of transparency and begun attending public meetings demanding answers. And many are waiting to see if any real change happens in Topeka this legislative session.
On Thursday night, Kansas citizens can learn even more about how their state operates in the dark — and what needs to be done to shed more light — during a Topeka town hall titled “Why so Secret, Kansas?”
The Star, in partnership with the Kansas Press Association, is holding the forum at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Emerald Ballroom of the Capitol Plaza Hotel, 1717 SW Topeka Blvd. Everyone is welcome. Several legislative leaders and a former lawmaker who has been a strong advocate for openness in government will make up the panel.
For those who live outstate, The Star will broadcast it live on its Facebook page. To find it, go to https://www.facebook.com/kansascitystar/.
The town hall is the second to be held in response to The Star’s recent series that found that Kansas has one of the darkest state governments in the nation, with secrecy permeating nearly every aspect of service. At a packed Jan. 18 town hall in Olathe, panelists fielded questions on topics including KanCare, the complicated legislative process and the troubled Department for Children and Families.
Panel members are Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican; House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican; Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat; House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat; Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat; and former Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican.
The Star’s series exposed countless examples of government secrecy, from records kept under wraps in police shootings to shredding notes within the Department for Children and Families to asking KanCare recipients to sign blank forms for plans of care.
The project also showed that lawmakers’ votes in legislative committees are seldom recorded and that more than 90 percent of the laws passed in the last decade stemmed from bills whose authors were anonymous. And it revealed the common use of a tactic called “gut-and-go” in which lawmakers strip the language from a bill that’s already passed one chamber and replace it with a totally unrelated measure, then quickly advance it with little or no debate.
In the weeks since The Star’s series, the push to fix the state’s culture of secrecy has intensified, with calls coming from open-government advocates, readers, state officials and legislators.