This has been a good week for transparency in both Kansas and Missouri, and we need a lot more weeks like that.
On Tuesday, Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Republican from Overland Park, led her leaders in the right direction by introducing a bill that would make the opaque way her state’s far-too-secretive government works at least a little more transparent.
The measure would end the practice of anonymous lawmaking by requiring that the person who requests the bill be listed in committee minutes, and on both online and paper copies of that bill. If the bill were being requested on behalf of a person or group, that would be listed, too. And finally, if the guts of a bill were removed and replaced — a dubious procedure known as “gut-and-go” — then the author’s name would be removed, too.
Just weeks ago, Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman told The Star editorial board that he was open to requiring lawmakers to put their names on bills they’d authored, but feared “unintended consequences.” And he said he didn’t see any way around the problem of lawmakers naturally not wanting their names on a bill that had been changed into something different by the “gut-and-go.”
“It was totally impossible until someone introduced a bill,” said Clayton, who was that someone.
Now, to his credit, Ryckman has ordered committee chairs to require that sponsors be named on every bill. “This is something that we can do” administratively, he said. Which is progress, but doesn’t codify the change, or guarantee that it will last beyond this session and this speaker. That’s why passing Clayton’s bill is so important. She said she also likes the idea of a state auditor to make government more responsive, but that isn’t part of this bill.
Anonymous bills became an issue after The Star’s November series on “Secret Kansas,” which has one of the country’s least transparent state governments.
On Tuesday, Democrats in both the Kansas House and Senate also rolled out a dozen bills that would dramatically improve transparency: They want to end “gut-and-go” altogether, require that all votes be recorded, open up child death records in the Department for Children and Families, place more restrictions on lobbyists, require more disclosure on civil asset forfeitures and stiffer penalties for violations of the Kansas Open Records Act and the Kansas Open Meetings Act. All of those would make life better for Kansans in real ways.
We’ve also written more than once about the lack of transparency and limits on free speech imposed by the Shawnee Mission School Board. But they, too, are taking complaints from the public into account, and now say they are willing to drop their attempt to ban criticism of school board members at public meetings. Nothing has been finalized, and the board will review a draft of the new policy next month. Yet board members now seem to realize that trying to outlaw criticism is one sure way to attract it.
Finally, in another potential victory for sunlight, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley wants to strengthen the state’s open-records laws by creating a new transparency division in the AG’s office. He’s also asked lawmakers to give his office subpoena power in open-records investigations and create penalties for violations of Missouri’s record-retention laws. Lawmakers ought to agree. Unless, of course, they have something to hide.