- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt outlined a proposal Wednesday that would require the state to disclose some private emails from public officials when the messages deal with government business.

But Schmidt also warned legislators that state employees enjoy free-speech protections that make it difficult to expand the Kansas Open Records Act so officials don’t evade it by using private email accounts or devices. He said his proposal would comply with past court decisions on free-speech issues.

The Republican attorney general outlined his proposal in a letter to the director of the GOP-dominated Legislature’s bill-drafting staff. Democratic legislators sought changes in the records law following disclosures that Budget Director Shawn Sullivan, a top adviser to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, used a private email account at least twice in December to circulate details of budget proposals.

Schmidt wrote that he believes the private email “loophole” in the law should be fixed.

But he added, “I also am mindful that in the delicate area of government regulation of speech, an ill-considered ‘fix’ risks unintentionally creating more problems than it solves.”

Schmidt said an expansion of the records act becomes constitutionally questionable if it compels disclosure of an official’s emails to a spouse or adult children, touching on work as well as private matters. Employees also enjoy protections for private emails that criticize their agencies or send information to reporters.

Schmidt issued a legal opinion last week saying that state employees using private accounts or devices are not covered by the records act. The law generally requires agencies and other government-funded entities to make their records available to the public, though it contains dozens of exceptions.

Doug Anstaett, the Kansas Press Association’s executive director, called last week’s legal opinion a “total repudiation” of the records act but commended Schmidt on Wednesday for making his proposal.

“I think we can all agree to allow this loophole to continue would be dangerous to open government in Kansas,” Anstaett said in a statement. “It must be remedied now.”

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Online:

Schmidt’s proposal: https://1.usa.gov/1E9Vh06 .

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .


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