Kansas re-examines open records laws after email questions

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Kansas officials are taking a fresh look at the state’s open records laws in the wake of national scrutiny over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account for government communications.

The Kansas Open Records Act doesn’t specifically cover emails or other communications for government officials’ private accounts or devices, even if they do involve government business. Some Democratic lawmakers are looking to change that and have introduced legislation in both houses of the state Legislature to update the act.

One stumbling block: Kansas Republican leaders have questioned what standards the state could use to separate public and private business use of email.

If it’s in a system that’s discoverable, “I think you’re going to have some difficulty getting as much input as you had hoped,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said. “It’s going to, I think, have a real chilling impact.”

Brownback said neither he nor his aides knew how often officials used private emails or devices to discuss public business, and sans guidance from the state’s Open Records Act, his administration does not yet have a policy to govern electronic communications.

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a sponsor for an update to the Open Records Act, said that electronic communications should fall under the act.

“It’s something that I think should become a part of the Open Records Act,” Hensley said. “I consider [the lack of electronic communications] a big loophole.”

Clinton’s email scandal was not the only event that inspired state lawmakers to take another look at the Kansas Open Records Act: State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan reportedly used a private email account at least twice last year to distribute details about potential budget proposals.

Read more at the Topeka Capital-Journal.

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