Kansas bill gags all gun lobbying

Kansas state government could be barred from lobbying for or against gun control in Washington by a gag rule designed to prevent local governments from lobbying in favor of gun control at the Statehouse.

The state Senate on Friday gave its final approval to a bill that would prohibit state-appropriated funds from being spent “on any activity designed to influence the enactment of legislation, an appropriation, a regulation, an administrative action, or an executive order proposed or pending before the federal government, Kansas Legislature or local government legislative body relating to gun control.”

Following the 31-6 vote to pass the bill, Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, confirmed that the provisions would apply not only to local governments and state agencies such as the Board of Regents lobbying in Topeka, but also to state agencies lobbying in Washington.

Under the bill, state funds can’t be used to “promote or not promote gun control,” said Smith, who carried the measure on the Senate floor.

The lobbying firm Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell has represented state interests in Washington since before Gov. Sam Brownback took office, said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor’s spokeswoman. The cost of the contract is split between several state agencies.

The details of the lobbying relationship were not immediately available, and Jones-Sontag said she didn’t know whether the lobbyists were actively representing the state on gun-control issues.

Brownback has recently exchanged scathing letters with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder over a new state law that seeks to exempt Kansas-made firearms and accessories from federal gun laws — and make it a crime for U.S. agents to try to enforce those laws.

Holder threatened litigation against the state, saying it’s unconstitutional for states to try to overrule federal law or interfere with federal officers performing their duties.

Brownback replied that the law represents the “sovereign will” of Kansans and argued that the Ninth and 10th amendments to the Constitution preclude the federal government from regulating firearms that have never crossed the state line.

Smith said the governor would still be allowed to argue with the attorney general under an exception in the bill for “normal and recognized executive and legislative relationships.”

However, Sen. Marci Francisco, a Topeka Democrat, said legislative research staff told her that exception would not apply to lobbying activity, because that’s covered in a different section of the bill that bans state funding for “publicity or propaganda purposes relating to gun control.”

The bill originated in a measure intended to impose a general prohibition on use of state-appropriated funds for lobbying. But as it made its way through the legislative process, it was narrowed down in terms of subject matter until only gun control remained, Smith said.

Smith, a strong supporter of gun rights, said he sees gun control as a Second Amendment issue and he doesn’t think it’s proper for government funds to be spent on either side in the gun-control debate.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, voted against the bill and blasted it as “a violation of freedom of speech and playing Big Brother to local government.”

“Many state elected officials indicate they do not like the federal government implementing mandates on state government,” she said, “but seem to not have any remorse for stifling the voice of local governments who are elected by the same people we are elected by to represent our citizens back home.”

The bill will now go to the House for final passage to the governor’s desk.

Jones-Sontag said Brownback would have to review the bill.