Private Email Amendment Defeated

By John Celock

For the second time this year, Kansas lawmakers have defeated a floor amendment to make private email accounts of state officials open public records.

The state Senate voted 6-32 to defeat an amendment from Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) to make state related emails on the private accounts open to state public records. The state House of Representatives defeated a similar floor amendment in early February. The issue came to light earlier this year regarding email state Budget Director Shawn Sullivan had sent on his personal account regarding a draft of the state budget to other state officials and lobbyists.

“We have a large loophole in the use of personal emails,” Hensley told the Senate.

Democrats have expressed concern over the personal use of email since the report regarding Sullivan surfaced. Sullivan had said he used his personal email since he had sent the email from his private account since it was done over the Christmas holidays. At the time, Sullivan emailed the budget draft to the personal emails of other state officials.

Hensley cited the Sullivan case during the floor debate and also cited the current national debate over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email while at the State Department. Hensley also cited other state officials who have had issues raised over personal email use including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R).

“As a matter of public policy it is important that we close this loophole,” Hensley said. “This merited a discussion on the floor of Senate.”

Hensley’s amendment came on a routine bill relating to public records. In early February, Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) used the same bill in the state House to offer a similar amendment. Ward’s effort was defeated in the House 30-86.

Senate Vice President Jeff King (R-Independence) raised concerns over the scope of Hensley’s amendment and whether it should have gone through the committee process for discussion. He noted that public officials can have private email accounts and wanted to make sure that the bill did not overreach.

“Looking at this language reminds me that while I appreciate having this discussion, I have concern about radically altering our open records law in this forum,” King said.

Similar concerns were raised in the House debate, with lawmakers saying that the bill should receive in-depth study in a committee rather than during floor debate.

King raised concerns that if a public official used their private email account to obtain a babysitter for childcare while they performed a state related duty, the amendment would require disclosure of that email. Hensley said It would not be required.

“This is an issue that is very concerning when an official is in their official public responsibility,” Hensley said. “There is no intent to get into anyone’s personal email accounts when they are emailing family over family matters.”