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Officials fear losing voice

Legislation would curtail lobbying by public entities

POSTED February 14, 2013 4:21 p.m.
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Great Bend City Administrator Howard Partington stood before the Kansas Senate’s Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee Monday morning. He told the members his very appearance in Topeka could be construed as a violation of the bill he came to testify against.
Partington joined a host of city, county and school district officials from across the state in that hearing chamber to speak against the proposed anti-public entity lobbying Senate Bill 109. “That room was packed,” he said.
In a nutshell, SB 109 would prohibit public funds from being used to pay for lobbying services or for membership dues to an association that is engaged in lobbying. But, it would not prohibit officers or employees of the state, a municipality, or an association from communicating with the Legislature.
In addition, public funds could not be used for a direct or indirect gift or campaign contribution to any elected official, officer or employee of the state or a municipality. Any individual violating provisions of the bill would be guilty of a class C misdemeanor.
“It’s very broad and very vague,” Partington said of the legislation. “Under the bill, just by being there (at the hearing) would have made me a criminal.”
He said there were only about four that spoke for the bill and about 13 who spoke against it. There was also a table piled with written testimony opposing the bill.
“They did hear what we had to say,” Partington said. He was also asked to submit a written statement.
Cities, counties and school districts rely on such organizations as the Kansas League of Municipalities, Kansas Association of Counties and Kansas State Association of Boards to speak on their behalf.  “We would be losing a voice,” Partington said.
There a number of initiatives cities like Great Bend would like to have a say in, he said. Among them are transportation and economic development projects.
There are exceptions. A legislator can contact an officials and request their appearance or a governing body can direct a representative to testify, but even these are iffy.
The bill was introduced Friday, Feb. 1, by the  by Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs, which is also the bill’s primary sponsor. The first hearing in the Senate took place Monday at the Statehouse with the Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, during which Partington and the others plead their case.
The hearing was scheduled late Friday afternoon. Partington was tipped off over the weekend and hastily planned his trip.
Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, who’s 35th District includes all of Ellsworth County and part of Rice County, is the Committee on Federal and State Affairs’ vice-chairman. Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, who’s 33rd District takes in all of Barton, Pawnee, Stafford and Rush counties, serves on it as well.
Neither were available Thursday for comment on the bill.
Chairman Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, was also unavailable.
As for the bill’s impetus, Partington said he did not know. “That question was asked. Nobody seemed to want to take credit for it.”
According to state Budget Director Steven J. Anderson, enactment of the bill could affect state agencies and municipalities that use public funds for lobbying efforts. However, the number of state agencies or municipalities affected is not known.
In addition, the bill could increase the number of cases in the local judicial system, as it creates a new class C misdemeanor, Anderson said. The number of additional cases cannot be estimated.
Partington said the committee adjourned without taking any action on the bill. Its fate from here is unknown.
The committee may “work the bill” and try to get it before the whole Senate, he said. Or, it may just fade away.


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