Concern about bill to limit lobbying

By Maura Wery

Riley County commissioners believe their collective relationship with legislators could be hampered by a bill recently referred to a Senate committee. They say Senate Bill 109, which has been sent to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, would limit the ability of county and city governments to initiate contact with legislators about issues unless .

Commission members say they could face jail time if they use a lobbyist or personally contact state lawmakers with concerns in the event the measure is passed.

In discussions about the legislation Thursday, commissioners said its passage would hinder them from being the “voice to talk about the impact of issues to the public.”

Commissioners also expressed concern with what they described as its shaky and unclear language. In a letter drafted for presentation to the legislature, Commission Chairman Dave Lewis said the bill does not clearly define the “proper official channels,” that county officials are to use when contacting legislators along with when it is “deemed necessary for the efficient conduct of the public business,” or when the county could contact for issues considered “made in performance of their official duties.”

Clancy Holeman, the county counselor, told commissioners there were other problems with the bill as well.

He said passage of the bill would essentially eliminate the lobbying abilities of the Kansas Association of Counties, the state organization of county officials, and thus could leave the county in the dark about issues directly affecting it.

One of those issues, which commissioners also discussed Thursday, is a proposed machinery tax exemption.

Commissioners were told that lawmakers recently changed the bill in ways that could cause a $6 million tax shift, mostly increasing homeowners’ property tax bills. Lewis said the increase could be as much as 11 mills, depending on how much of the reduction in revenues commissioners elect to offset. On an average $175,000 home, an 11-mill increasewould equate to $221.

“Everyone keeps saying this is going to happen,” County Clerk Rich Vargo said. Lewis said the bill is designed to attract commercial business to the state, but will be more detrimental than beneficial, especially to those running counties, cities and school districts.

Holeman and Commissioner Bob Boyd, along with county appraiser Greg McHenry, intend to go to Topeka on Feb. 21 to testify on the bill.

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