SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2012
Conduct: Dem wants a code Continued from Page 1A
Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the complexity of issues faced by lawmakers and vast amounts of money in the political mix suggested the time had come for the Legislature to adopt a code of conduct. "It's helpful to know where the lines are," said Wagnon, a former Topeka House member. "I think the code of conduct helps with transparency." Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said the problem of self-dealing was best handled informally by legislators monitoring their own approach to bills, by elected peers in the Capitol raising red flags at questionable behavior, and by the public exposing lawmakers' personal connections. "My sense is that a lot of legislators in Kansas, I know a majority are Republican, they really don't like detailed guidance from the government," Barker said. "They probably feel they have a good moral and ethical compass. I don't know if a code of conduct would be of any value." A feature of the citizen-Legislature model in Kansas is members of the House and Senate work about 90 days in Topeka during the annual session, but live in home districts the remainder of the year. The political work is to be a part-time affair, while involvement in home communities is to be the fulltime endeavor. Tension between the public and private sides of legislative life exist among Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Chris Steineger, R-Kansas City, attempted to manipulate Kansas' system for granting housing tax credits while his $180,000 request for a tax credit was pending before a state agency. At the same time, Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, voted on funding for home- and community-based Medicaid services, such as those his company provides. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, worked as a public school teacher and weighed in on dozens of school finance bills. Meanwhile, Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, sought to compel state agencies to accept low bidders after his company lost a state contract as the low bidder. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat
and practicing lawyer, said some candidates for the Legislature were pushing ethical boundaries on campaign expenditures. "One of the things the Legislature needs to do is toughen up rules on how you can reimburse yourself," Davis said. For example, House Speakerelect Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, paid himself $14,400 in 2011 from a campaign account for telephone and Internet services belatedly claimed for the years 2000 to 2010. Rep. Terri Lois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, wrote herself a $4,600 check from a campaign account one week after losing the August primary. She claimed that bundle as reimbursement for mileage expenses, and she filed documents asserting rights to $13,000 more in mileage. Sen. Les Donovan, a Republican from Wichita and owner of a car dealership, said some legislators found it difficult to earn a living because they had to be away from home and regular jobs four months each year. Daily compensation for House and Senate members ought to be raised to the average daily pay of a young public school teacher, he said. "That would more than double legislator pay," Donovan said. Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University in Topeka, said legislators should be fully aware of the salary offered for service in the Legislature. Members of the Legislature, who often speak of transparency, should be eager to self-disclose potential conflicts, he said. "Of course," he said, "a conflict of interest should be declared all the time. It doesn't mean a legislator has to recuse himself or herself. Disclosure and information are what make a democracy work." In instances of an irreconcilable conflict, Beatty said, lawmakers simply shouldn’t vote on those troublesome bills. He recommended the Legislature form an ombudsman's office dedicated to sorting through conflicts of interest. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has oversight of campaigns, but the agency doesn't have the staff to handle an expanded workload. "It would be relatively easy to form an office in the Legislature with dedicated staff that demands detailed reports from legislators," Beatty said.
BRIEFLY MISCELLANEOUS Soroptimist International is accepting applications for its Women’s Opportunity Awards through Dec. 15. Eligibility requirements, application and reference forms available at www. soroptimisttopeka.org. Information: email@example.com. The Topeka Police Athletic League will accept registrations through Dec. 15 for its 2013 basketball season. Participation is open to high school boys and girls currently enrolled in school and in good standing. The season begins Jan. 5, 2013, with games played Saturdays and Sundays at Oakland Community Center. Registration forms are available at the Topeka Police Department, Shawnee County Parks and Recreation community centers, and area high schools. For more information, contact Tom Powell, 221-5010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Shawnee County Extension Master Gardener Program is accepting applications for two $500 scholarships, to be awarded in 2013, through Jan. 15, 2013. Shawnee County resident graduating seniors, including home-schooled, can apply. Eligibility requirements, application and instructions available at www.shawnee.ksu. edu. Information: 232-0062. Women Empowerment Inc. is accepting applications for its Young Women Advancement Scholarship through
March 28. Eligibility requirements and applications, which must be postmarked by that date, can be downloaded at http://www.womenempowermentks.org/Scholarship.html.
SUPPORT GROUPS Grief and Loss Support Group, 3 to 4 p.m. and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, and 3 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Midland Care (Building A), 200 S.W. Frazier. Call: Tim Keogh, 232-2044 or email@example.com. Al-Anon Family Groups for friends and families of alcoholics. Call 409-3072 for schedule of meetings or visit www.topekaalanon.org or www.Kansas-Al-Anon.org.
TOPEKA USD 501 USD 501 Parents as Teachers program is offering free play groups, through May 17, 2013, for parents and their children (ages birth to 5) living within the Topeka Unified School District 501. Schedule: 11 a.m to noon Monday; 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday; 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday; and 10 to 11.a.m., 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. (parents and babies prenatal to 12 months) and 6 to 7:30 p.m. (dinner and play time for fathers and children, reservation required) Thursday, at Quinton Heights, 2331 S.W. Topeka Blvd. Also: 1 to 2:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 1 to 2:30 p.m. (bilingual) Thursday; and 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, at Pine Ridge, 1100 S.E. Highland. Information: 274-6480.