TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Democratic lawmakers in Kansas outlined proposals Tuesday for making state government more transparent after Republican leaders said they’re taking steps to give the public more information about who is behind the legislation being considered.
The Democratic proposals included measures designed to make police body camera footage more accessible to the public and to require law enforcement agencies to tally and report what property they seize as a result of their criminal investigations.
Democrats also are pushing for tougher lobbying laws and changes in how the Legislature itself operates, including a bill that would prevent the House, Senate and their committees from taking unrecorded votes on bills and amendments.
Their Statehouse news conference came a day after House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, announced that he has directed all committees to keep a written record of which lawmakers requests bills and on whose behalf. The Legislature has faced widespread criticism for its common practice of allowing committees to sponsor bills without disclosing the lawmakers or groups behind them.
While lawmakers and advocacy groups have pushed open-government measures for years, interest snowballed after The Kansas City Star published a series of stories in November and said Kansas has “one of the most secretive state governments in the nation.”
“One of the cornerstones of democracy is the people’s right to observe their government in action,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Topeka Democrat.
Access to body camera footage has become an issue because of several fatal shootings by law enforcement officers. A state law restricts who can see body camera footage without a court order, and in Topeka, the father of a 30-year-old man fatally shot by police Sept. 28 was not able to view footage from the incident for almost three months.
Rep. John Alcala, a Topeka Democrat, said he wants to ensure that body camera footage can be viewed within 48 hours of a written request, while Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said he is working on his own proposal to loosen restrictions.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, said he’s open to considering changes but the desire for transparency in such cases must be balanced against privacy rights.
“I think those are areas where we proceed very carefully,” Hineman said.
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