Kansas legislators gave final approval Tuesday to restrictions on using state funds to promote or oppose gun control policies despite criticism that the new law would violate public officials’ free-speech rights.
The Republican-dominated House approved the bill on an 83-28 vote. The GOP-controlled Senate approved it last week. The measure now goes to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. He declined to say Tuesday whether he would sign it, but he is a strong gun rights supporter.
The new law would prevent local governments and school districts from using dollars received from the state to hire statehouse lobbyists to influence legislators on gun control issues. Neither the state nor local governments could hire Washington lobbyists to influence federal officials.
The National Rifle Association lobbied for the measure, and its approval came less than a month after a new Kansas law took effect declaring that the federal government has no power to regulate firearms, ammunition and accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in the state.
Both measures were considered amid discussions of federal gun control measures after December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Critics said the real issue is not protecting the right to gun ownership under the Second Amendment, but the free-speech rights in the First Amendment.
“We’re talking about guns here. What’s next?” said Rep. Nile Dillmore, a Wichita Democrat. “This is a very undemocratic and very foolish piece of legislation.”
But supporters said the restrictions are similar to limitations imposed by the federal government to prevent groups receiving its dollars from using the money on lobbying or political advocacy.
Gene Policinski, senior vice president for the nonpartisan First Amendment Center, based at Vanderbilt University and in Washington, said Kansas legislators are targeting the use of tax dollars, rather than trying to impose a blanket ban on officials advocating publicly on an issue.
“It might pass constitutional muster,” he said.