It is difficult enough to figure out the Kansas Legislature, let alone interpret the proposed Senate Bill 109 designed to ban public entities from using tax money to pay for their lobbying efforts.
The bill would prohibit public funds from being used to pay for lobbying services or for membership dues to any lobbying organization. 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.
Granted, there are exceptions, but even these are unclear. Supposedly, it would still be possible for public officials or their myriad associations to communicate with the Legislature. They could do so at the request of lawmakers or with the approval of whatever governing body employs them.
“It’s very broad and very vague,” Great Bend City Administrator Howard Partington said. He was in Topeka Monday to offer testimony against the bill.
At best, this is an innocent, but misguided, attempt to limit the influence of lobbyists who continue to troll the halls of the Statehouse. Protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as free speech, the act of lobbying is defined and enshrined in state law. However, the profession has earned a sometimes slimy reputation thanks to the money flowing from big business and organizations.
None the less, it is a sacred right of the legislative process.
Or, perhaps, the bill is an attempted back-door effort to silence the voice of the state’s public school districts in their fight to maintain the funding promised through the Kansas Supreme Court. There are several educational groups pounding the marble floors of the capitol.
In this play, other public entities are winding up as collateral damage.
Maybe, it is something even more nefarious. Maybe it is a plot by a ridiculously conservative Legislature to drastically curtail access by the voters of Kansas as a whole to the legislative process. Are they not elected by the people and, therefore, accountable to them?
Only the Senate knows the true intent.
Lobbying is not always what the public wants. The Kansas League of Municipalities and Kansas Association of Counties have lobbied for years to allow public notices to be published only on the websites of their members instead of in community newspapers.
It is difficult for newspapers to stomach the fact that public money was used to fight for something that would take money of their pockets.
So, in turn, newspapers and the lobbyists representing them have fought back. This is how the system works.
But, many public entities are ham-stringed by cash shortages. They need to have a voice in Topeka. Presumably, since these folks are elected by the populace, they carry the best interest of their constituents.
Whatever the reasoning for SB109, one thing is clear. Partington said the overwhelming majority of those who testified Monday spoke against it.
It is hoped that it just fades away.