Kansas lawmakers moving ahead with audio-visual technology upgrade at Capitol

By: - September 16, 2020 3:52 pm
Rep. Tom Sawyer, the House Democrat leader from Wichita, is expected to file a complaint Monday seeking ouster of Rep.-elect Aaron Coleman, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Tom Sawyer, the House Democrat leader from Wichita, is expected to file a complaint Monday seeking ouster of Rep.-elect Aaron Coleman, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Leaders of the Kansas Legislature offered bipartisan support Wednesday for development of an estimated $5 million plan for modernizing audio and visual technology at the Capitol to improve communication access to meetings.

The idea is to overhaul equipment at the statehouse so legislators can more easily participate from afar while improving the public’s ability to observe action on the House and Senate floor and during committee meetings of both chambers. The Legislative Coordinating Council gave approval for planning to continue regardless of whether federal CARES Act funding is allocated for the project.

“This is something we probably should have done a few years ago,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican who chairs the Senate’s budget committee. “The pandemic has made it more important.”

The Legislature has struggled with technology breakdowns after COVID-19 forced an early end to the 2020 session. During the LCC meeting attended in-person at the Capitol by Senate President Susan Wagle and House Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, it was difficult at times to hear comments by some of the seven council members.

In other business, the LCC voted to transfer $5 million from the state’s coronavirus response account to a job creation fund. About half of the Legislature’s original $50 million appropriation for COVID-19 has yet to be spent.

The council rejected a recommendation to pay a consulting firm an extra $34,000 for negotiating with utility companies to reduce redaction in the public version of a report on the high cost of electricity in Kansas. The Kansas Corporation Commission supervised the cost study, which led to controversy about deletion of information Evergy and other companies deemed confidential.

A revised edition of the report is expected to reduce by 85% the information blackened out at the urging of utility companies.

“I can’t think of anything that should be confidential and kept from the public,” said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican.

 

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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