The leading Democrat in the Kansas House is spurring a renewed effort to keep many former elected officials from immediately becoming registered lobbyists.
The Kansas Integrity in Government Act was part of the Kansas Democrats’ bundle of transparency bills shown off at a news conference last week, though it was first introduced early in the 2017 session. The House elections committee held a hearing on the bill Monday afternoon.
The legislation, which is being promoted by House Minority Leader Jim Ward, would bar people from lobbying or being employed as a lobbyist within one year of their resignation from elected office or the end of their term, according to the Democrat’s proposal.
The bill also would apply to those who held executive roles in state agencies or departments and certain senior-level staff.
It would slow the revolving door, said Ward, a Wichita Democrat running for governor.
“I think that delay ... takes some of that inside stuff away,” he said. “And it’s all based on the merit of your ideas and your persuasion about those ideas, and less about ‘Oh, I know you’ or ‘I used to work with you’ or ‘You used to be my boss’ or any of that stuff.”
Ward’s renewed push for transparency in Topeka comes after secrecy problems in state government were highlighted by The Star in its series Why So Secret, Kansas?
The elected officials barred from lobbying for one year would be the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, the insurance commissioner and members of the Legislature. The bill does not include the attorney general and state treasurer.
Other than Ward, no one testified for or against the bill.
Republicans on the House committee questioned Ward on the length of the cooling-off period and how the proposal would affect lawmakers’ careers.
“I’ve talked with people outside of the committee,” said Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican running for secretary of state who leads the House elections committee. “A lot of them did not want to come and state their viewpoints in front of the committee. Their big concern: Are we limiting what people can do as a job when they leave the Legislature?”
Former lawmakers are frequently seen in the halls of the statehouse as lobbyists, including Mike O’Neal, a former Republican speaker of the House.
O’Neal said in an interview Ward’s proposal casts too broad a net.
“It does sort of interfere with the right to an avocation, right to freedom of work,” O’Neal said. “... I really don’t know what the problem is that’s being fixed by that.”
Last session, Brett Hildabrand, a former Republican representative from Shawnee who lost his re-election bid in August 2016, quickly rebounded and was a lobbyist for the Kansas State Rifle Association.
“You look out in that hall and there are dozens and dozens of former legislators and executive members,” Ward said. “Nothing wrong with that. I just think there needs to be a gap between your services to the public and your services for advocates or lobbying.”