Gov. Laura Kelly signs compromise bill to change Ethics Commission subpoenas, procedures

Gov. Laura Kelly signed Friday a compromise effort to change the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission's subpoena powers, which was supported by agency director Mark Skoglund.
Gov. Laura Kelly signed Friday a compromise effort to change the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission's subpoena powers, which was supported by agency director Mark Skoglund.

Gov. Laura Kelly signed Friday a compromise effort to change the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission's subpoena powers, as well as certain procedures in the agency charged with overseeing campaign finance and ethics matters.

The move is a less aggressive version of a bill that received heavy pushback from KGEC executive director Mark Skoglund, who criticized it for potentially allowing behavior under investigation in a major probe into legislative Republicans, county party officials and interest groups.

More: Judge won't toss subpoenas directed at Kansas Republican officials amid ethics probe

Conservatives have argued the commission is in need of reform, with individuals appearing before the body being denied due process. Legislators denied the interest in the bill was related to the ongoing probe.

After prolonged negotiations, Skoglund, Kelly's office and attorneys representing individuals appearing before the commission who were involved in the bill-drafting process reached a deal on a compromise proposal.

"I’m not going to come out and say that I love absolutely everything in this bill, I think that is probably expected," Skoglund told the House Elections Committee last month. "But even though I don’t, I will say that I think there is a quite a bit of good law contained in many portions of this bill and the remainder represents a negotiated compromise that I do not oppose."

The legislation, Senate Bill 208, will change how the commission issues subpoenas and where the agency receives its funds, as well as attempting to increase protections for individuals appearing before the body.

The number of commission members required to issue a subpoena will be reduced but the an application for a subpoena must now be issued under seal and the bar required to establish probable cause and make charges public has been raised.

More: Kansas lawmakers back off aggressive campaign finance overhaul. Here's what they will do.

The law also creates a five-year statute of limitations for actions before the commission, meaning the body could not probe potential offenses that occurred more than five years earlier.

A defendant also could request a hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings, rather than the full commission.

The law also raises fees for political committees in Kansas, a move designed to make the Ethics Commission's budget less reliant on fines, which are now capped. The idea doesn't affect the overall funding levels of the agency, nor reduces its ability to carry out its operations.

And it allows legislators safe harbor to solicit campaign contributions during session, provided they include a disclaimer that they are not intending to receive donations from lobbyists, which remains a violation of campaign finance laws.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signs compromise Ethics Commission measure