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The Legislative Process Shouldn’t Take Place Behind Closed Doors

Opinion Press - May 20, 2013 10:40 am

The Garden City Telegram

The Garden City Telegram

The most important issue of the legislative session is being hashed out behind closed doors.

So it goes in a state where a handful of Republicans have decided to privately pursue a tax-cut plan in a state facing a significant loss of revenue.

Even though legislative leaders previously appointed three senators and three House members to resolve tax issues – and much of their discussions were to occur in public meetings – the appointed negotiators have been left out.

Indeed. the private talks that materialized ended up putting the vast majority of state lawmakers on the sidelines, and left citizens wondering what’s going on.

That’s not how the legislative process should work, but was to be expected from current GOP leadership.

Keep in mind Senate President Susan Wagle, a participant in the private talks on a new tax plan along with fellow Republicans Ray Merrick, House speaker, and Gov. Sam Brownback, once questioned whether the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) meant the public should have access to talks among groups of legislators.

“I think the intent was to make sure we vote in public,” Wagle said of a law that prohibits the majority of a legislative body from meeting to discuss business without notifying the public and giving citizens access.

Of course, the recent private talks on a tax plan don’t involve a majority of a legislative body.

And, such behind-the-scenes negotiations aren’t unheard of in Topeka. The problem, however, is in limiting public engagement in a key issue and in turn encouraging secrecy.

Differences exist among Republicans on a tax plan, after all. Those differences should be resolved openly.

But that won’t happen. And next, look for a Legislature dominated by conservative Republicans in Brownback’s camp to simply rubber-stamp a deal crafted in private, without discussion or debate that would help Kansans understand the decision-making behind a plan with a huge impact on the state’s future.

Kansas is at a crossroads with its budget and future funding for such essential programs as education and social services. Having a financial plan settled behind closed doors won’t help Kansans embrace what’s to come.

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