Open police records bill advances

2/27/2014

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas residents would have more access to police documents explaining the reason behind arrests, in a bill that won approval in the state House on Thursday and went to the Senate where a tougher fight was expected.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas residents would have more access to police documents explaining the reason behind arrests, in a bill that won approval in the state House on Thursday and went to the Senate where a tougher fight was expected.

The bill, approved 113-10, also would make affidavits justifying search warrants open to the parties involved. The measure passed as the House finished work on dozens of bills ahead of Friday, the first big legislative deadline of the session.

Rep. John Rubin said unless there is a compelling law enforcement reason for not making a record public, details should be disclosed.

"I believe in full governmental accountability and transparency. It should apply to law enforcement as well," said Rubin, a Shawnee Republican.

As written, individuals whose homes are searched would have 30 days to request documentation explaining the reason for the search. Kansas is one of the few states that seal probable-cause affidavits. Neighboring Missouri does not.

The proposed change stems from an incident in Leawood, where a home was searched on the suspicion that hydroponic equipment used for a child's science project was being used to grow marijuana. The parents were ordered to the floor while their children watched as officers search the home.

The couple was never told the reason behind the search. The probable cause documents were closed.

Prosecutors have raised concerns that opening the records could jeopardize the safety and privacy of victims and witnesses. The bill was amended in committee to allow prosecutors to seek to have the records sealed or redacted in such instances.

Others have questioned the additional time and money it could cost to provide the documents to the public.

The Kansas Press Association, which had advocated for the change in previous years, supported Rubin's measure.

"There were some very bright legal minds that drafted this legislation. They tried to be fair," said Richard Gannon, the KPA's lobbyist. "I think the opposition has given up in the House and will try to fight us in the Senate.

Also Thursday, the Senate approved, 33-7, an unrelated records bill that would place limits on what state and local government agencies can charge to make copies of public records.

The Kansas Open Records Act allows government agencies to set reasonable fees and charge for the time it takes staff to review and retrieve records. The law isn't more specific, except to say a copying fee of 25 cents per page is reasonable for state executive branch agencies.

The bill would require agencies to fulfill requests for free if they involve fewer than 25 pages or less than an hour of work. Otherwise, agencies could charge up to 25 cents a page for copies and up to $60 an hour for staff time if attorneys are involved.

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