Kansas legislators to attend ALEC convention




The Topeka Capital-Journal

More than two-dozen Kansas legislators, including top Republican leaders of the House and Senate, plan to participate in the national convention in Chicago of an organization dedicated to layering a corporate agenda into politics at state Capitols, officials said Friday.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, are national board members of the American Legislative Exchange Council and scheduled to lead the Kansas delegation from Aug. 7 to 9.

State policy allows a $100 subsidy of registration fees for each legislator in attendance, but other conference or travel costs are covered by taxpayers only if the lawmaker serves in a leadership role in conservative, Republican-oriented ALEC, said Jeff Russell, director of Legislative Administrative Services.

"I get a chance to talk with other representatives and senators from around the state and other states," said Rep. Ron Ryckman Sr., a Republican from Meade in southwest Kansas. "It's a chance to learn what other states are doing."

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he intended to raise questions during a meeting Monday of state legislative leaders about the expenditure of state dollars for the ALEC meeting in light of the 2013 Legislature's decision to drop membership in the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments.

Hensley said Kansas legislators who voted to cease support for NCSL and CSG were among lawmakers who had requested advance approval of the state subsidy.

"There seems to be an inconsistency in public policy," Hensley said. "I think we need to look into this."

That list of applicants for the subsidy includes GOP Sens. Garrett Love of Montezuma, Terry Bruce of Hutchinson, Jeff King of Independence, Julia Lynn of Olathe, Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee and Jim Denning of Overland Park.

House Republicans requesting the subsidy in advance were Reps. Rob Bruchman and Marvin Kleeb, of Overland Park, Dennis Hedke, of Wichita, Kevin Jones, of Wellsville, and Ryckman.

ALEC, a consortium of corporations and politicians that form a private-public partnership, promotes limited government, federalism and free markets by producing hundreds of boilerplate bills for introduction state by state. Critics of the organization contend ALEC is designed to advance big business interests for such companies as Koch Industries of Kansas.

The list of keynote speakers in Chicago includes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and economist Arthur Laffer, who has been a significant influence on economic policy formulated by Gov. Sam Brownback and his Republican allies in the Legislature.

Merrick, the House speaker and ALEC's legislator of the year in 2010, said he would be attending the meetings in Chicago but wouldn't seek state reimbursement for conference costs.

"Attending the meeting in Chicago will be a benefit for legislators of all backgrounds and interests," Merrick said. "Legislators share their knowledge and experiences with one another and hear from national leaders and policy experts."

Ron Hein, a veteran Kansas lobbyist, said he was recruiting sponsors for the ALEC Kansas Night Dinner at a restaurant near the lakefront. Twenty-nine Kansas legislators and as many as 70 other people are expected to attend. Hein is soliciting sponsorships ranging from $500 to $650 for the Park Grill event, but the cost per participant might be closer to $100.

"That's kind of what they charge with dinner, reception, drinks, tips and taxes," said Hein, who has been working with the organization since 1989. "It's basically a party. This is supposed to be a social event."

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