Open access

3/16/2014

Proposals would protect public's right to know.

Proposals would protect public's right to know.

Kansas has laws in place to keep government open and accessible to all citizens.

The Kansas Open Records Act and Kansas Open Meetings Act exist to protect the right of individuals to inspect public records — information at police stations and school district offices, for example — and gain access to places where public business is conducted, such as school board or city commission meetings.

But too often, secrecy trumps transparency. Proposed legislation would address such failings.

One bill in the Kansas Statehouse would open probable cause affidavits. Kansas reportedly remains the only state to keep those documents sealed and unavailable to the public without a judge's order.

Without access to the documents, a suspect may be arrested, jailed and even convicted without the public knowing the reasoning behind the arrest.

Police acts, as with any function of government, require oversight. Law enforcement authorities with nothing to hide should have no problem letting the public know their reasons for bringing people to justice.

The bill also addresses search warrant affidavits, and would give a person subjected to a search access to the affidavit after 30 days unless a request is made to seal it for another 30 days.

Another proposal in Topeka would bring clarity to what may be charged for public records, and limit costs for routine requests.

Currently, it's not unusual for Kansans to encounter high costs to access records that are readily available.

Taxpayers already fund government operations related to the creation of public records. It's unreasonable to expect them to pay again for the information, unless there are extraordinary challenges in making copies.

No one wants to inconvenience records custodians. Even with costs rightly reined in, we wouldn't expect a crush of people making requests.

Consider the two proposals under consideration in Topeka necessary ways to shine light on the workings of government. Instead of tolerating policies that in essence discourage access to public documents, the goal should be a free flow of information, and a more informed citizenry.

State lawmakers who believe in the public's right to know should find the open government bills easy to embrace.

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