Bill could limit public access to police records
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The bill, passed with bipartisan support in the House, still has to be passed by the Senate and signed by the governor to take effect

By Hunter Woodall

The Kansas City Star

TOPEKA, Kan. — State records that include complaints and investigations about Kansas law enforcement officers could become more difficult to obtain under a bill moving forward in Topeka.

Under House Bill 2070, certain police records held by the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training would not have to be disclosed under the Kansas Open Records Act.

The commission’s records include forms that show why officers left their jobs, as well as details of investigations and complaints.

“The bill changes the fact that when we get requests for those records, we don’t have to redact them and send them out,” said Gary Steed, the executive director of the commission. “We basically say those records aren’t open under KORA, go back to the agency to get those records.”

But Max Kautsch, a Kansas attorney who focuses on open government, said he didn’t agree that other agencies were more likely to put forward the information.

“This next step isn’t really much of a solution because the practical effect is to make it that CPOST can just invoke (an exception to the records law) whenever anybody tries to get a record,” Kautsch said.

Despite passing with more than 100 votes in the House, some lawmakers questioned the transparency issues within the legislation.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican who voted against the bill, said she felt the bill “kind of locks some things up.”

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said there will still be a way for people to request the information if the bill becomes law. People could petition a court to release certain records, citing public interest.

“If the agency refuses to produce the information, then you have the right, for $185 and a lawyer, to go to court and say, ‘This ought to be released and here’s why,’ ” Carmichael said. “I don’t like that approach, I would like to think of a better approach.”

Commission officials said this week that the public also could still have access to the records by asking for the information from other law enforcement agencies, rather than the state.

“It’s their record,” commission counsel Michelle Meier said. “They may choose to release that information, but there’s no way for us to keep up on what those 430-some agencies are doing with their records at any given time. The original creating agency is just a better source.”

Kautsch, the open records attorney, said it was “totally bogus” to say that other agencies would be more likely to give up the records because they could cite other open records exemptions.

The bill, passed with bipartisan support in the House, still has to be passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Sam Brownback to take effect.

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©2017 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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