Capitol Watch: An appetite for trouble in the Missouri and Kansas legislatures

A “public hearing” of the Missouri House telecommunications committee took place with lobbyists at the Jefferson City Country Club.
A “public hearing” of the Missouri House telecommunications committee took place with lobbyists at the Jefferson City Country Club. YouTube, KRCG 13 News

This week in the Missouri and Kansas legislatures provided a lot to, well, chew on.

Um, yum?

The entree selection at the Jefferson City Country Club was delectable Tuesday night. But even saffron sea bass, honey miso chicken and filet au poivre are a little less savory when reporters and news cameras are documenting your every bite.

Four Republican Missouri House members learned this when they attended a so-called “public hearing” of the telecommunications committee. The public turned out to be five lobbyists from the telecom industry and a gaggle of reporters. The latter kept up a running commentary on Twitter, noting when dessert arrived and observing that one legislator had just ordered a third glass of wine.

Not to brag, but Capitol Watch warned that holding committee meetings outside the Capitol on the dime of the industries you’re supposed to be regulating is a really bad idea. On the morning after the steak-and-sea-bass dinner House Speaker John Diehl concluded the same thing. From now on, House committee meetings must be held inside the Capitol, where the best lawmakers can expect is free pizza or a taco spread.

In the Missouri Senate, meanwhile, a committee advanced a bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, that would, among other things, ban out-of-state travel paid for by lobbyists and mandate a waiting period before a legislator who has left office could become a lobbyist.

Now that’s a proactive approach.

Just between us

Speaking of the public’s business, Kansas Budget Director Shawn Sullivan used private, non-governmental email addresses — his own and those of recipients — to brief some people about a draft of Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget.

Among the recipients were David Kensinger, a campaign consultant and lobbyist who used to be Brownback’s chief of staff, and Mark Dugan, Brownback’s former campaign manager who is now a lobbyist.

Sullivan told a reporter he used his and other people’s personal email because it was Christmas break. To which we say, if Kansas government workers can’t access their business emails away from the office, the state needs some information technology assistance.

Kensinger, in particular, is a controversial figure in Kansas government. If Brownback’s staffers are going to blur the lines between politics and government, they’d best keep it on the record.

Long odds

Missouri Rep. Stacey Newman of Richmond Heights, a Democrat, and Kansas Rep. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, a Republican, are sponsoring bills to protect citizens who are threatened with domestic violence.

They have introduced legislation in their respective states to allow law enforcement personnel to seek a court order to remove guns from people who have been identified as violent abusers or mentally ill with violent tendencies.

The legislation is being pushed by a group that Bollier and Newman helped to get started, American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention.

It definitely merits a serious debate, but the sponsors know it faces long odds in the pro-gun legislatures.

Short odds

Kansas lawmakers already are holding hearings on a bill that would make it even harder for local governments to regulate guns.

Already barred by the overbearing Legislature from enforcing local gun ordinances, cities and counties would be barred from passing zoning or taxing laws that affect gun owners.

Among those pushing for House Bill 2087 at a hearing was Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and the owner of a home-based gun business in Wichita. “I would like to have the protection from being restricted by local ordinances,” he testified.

Wouldn’t everybody?

Good move

Despite an effort by a few Democrats, including Sen. Jason Holsman of Kansas City, to keep the issue alive, the Missouri legislature once again put the kibosh on a pay raise for themselves and other officials, including the governor.

Most lawmakers correctly saw the problem with giving themselves a raise of $4,000 over two years when most state employees, who are among the lowest-paid in the nation, are again going without an increase.