Government & Politics

Gov. Colyer signs bill to open state files on child deaths, police shootings

Colyer, DCF secretary applaud Kansas transparency bill

Gov. Jeff Colyer and Gina Meier-Hummel, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, applaud a new law requiring the agency to release information after a child dies of abuse or neglect.
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Gov. Jeff Colyer and Gina Meier-Hummel, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, applaud a new law requiring the agency to release information after a child dies of abuse or neglect.

With a few strokes of a pen Thursday, Gov. Jeff Colyer brought more openness to Kansas government.

The Kansas Republican signed a bill that will provide the public with more information after child tragedies and police shootings.

"The people need to know what is happening in government," Colyer said. "And that is what the point of this is."

One part of the transparency legislation requires the Kansas Department for Children and Families to release information after a child dies of abuse or neglect. The other part allows family members to see police body-camera footage within 20 days after a request is made.

Both issues were highlighted in The Star's November series, "Why so secret, Kansas?" In the months-long investigation into the secrecy that permeates Kansas government, The Star found that the state had one of the most restrictive body-camera laws in the nation.

It also revealed a pervasive effort inside the Department for Children and Families, or DCF, to avoid transparency, hiding behind privacy laws and internal procedures — even instructing employees to shred notes taken in meetings where the death of a child was discussed.

By the end of February, 19 measures promoting transparency had been introduced. Only four eventually passed both chambers.

DCF will be required to release within seven business days the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality, a summary of previous reports to the agency and its findings, as well as any department-recommended services provided.

"I think what we learn from the past takes us to the future," Colyer said. "These kids are so important to us."

Also, if a child dies while in state custody, the bill requires the DCF secretary to release the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality and a summary of the facts surrounding the death.

"I absolutely believe that signing this bill today will be monumental in terms of being able to tell the public more about what we do as an agency," said DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel. "I think there are a lot of myths out there and this will allow for us to tell what we have or haven't done with families."

The body-camera section of the measure isn't as strong as some had wanted. It requires the release of footage to the families, but language requiring the public release of footage was removed earlier in the legislative process.

The child death bill and the body camera bill were combined into one measure late in the legislative process. Its passage was applauded by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Colyer also signed two other measures that promote transparency and made a related executive order.

The bill signing came just a day after the Colyer administration was questioned by McClatchy about moving to lay off dozens of Department of Revenue employees after entering into no-bid contracts worth millions.

The Star’s Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas contributed to this report.
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