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A Kansas lawmaker wants to limit elected officials' outside jobs, targeting 'conflicts of interest'

The rotunda of the Kansas State Capitol Building in Topeka, Kansas.
Julie Denesha
Kansas News Service
The bill is one of several filed ahead of the 2024 legislative session, which opens Jan. 8.

Senate Bill 328 would prevent lawmakers and lieutenant governors from holding certain executive branch jobs.

A Kansas bill seeks to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest among elected state officials by limiting their ability to simultaneously hold second jobs in the state’s executive branch.

The bill was prefiled by Democratic Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City for introduction when the legislative session begins next week. It would prevent the state’s lieutenant governor from serving as the secretary or a department head of a state agency. It would also bar legislators from any sort of employment in the executive branch, except at educational institutions under the control of the Kansas Board of Regents.

If passed, that would impact officials on both sides of the aisle. Lt. Gov. David Toland, a Democrat, currently serves as secretary of commerce. Sen. J.R. Claeys, a Republican from Salina, is a senior adviser to Attorney General Kris Kobach.

Holland said both instances create the appearance of conflicts of interest. If a lieutenant governor is the secretary of commerce, he said, it throws into question the motivations behind the agency’s economic development deals.

“Is it good policy,” he said, “or is there also the appearance of a conflict of interest by, maybe, those deals being crafted to benefit the governor politically?”

A spokesperson for Gov. Laura Kelly, who appointed Toland to both roles, said in an email that the governor does not typically comment on bills that she did not propose until they reach her desk. The Kansas Reflector reports that Kelly has rejected the idea that Toland’s roles create conflicts of interest.

Holland also took issue with Claeys serving as vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the state budget.

“He’s overseeing the crafting of the budget for the Attorney General’s Office — in essence, his own salary,” he said. “Is he representing the interests of the citizens of his district, or is he representing the interests of the Attorney General’s Office?”

Claeys dismissed the bill as politically motivated. He said all lawmakers who have outside jobs, as most do, work to avoid conflicts of interest.

“I (avoid conflicts) the same way that someone who serves as a teacher in a school district comes to the Capitol and does it every single day,” he said. “I do it the same way that someone who works for a utility (or) who works for an insurance company (does).”

Additionally, he said the bill’s exception for employment at educational institutions is hypocritical because several Democratic lawmakers hold positions at state universities.

“It should interest taxpayers that (Sen. Holland) omitted all the Democrats who work for regents institutions who come to work in the Capitol on state payroll and vote, repeatedly, to pork up the budgets of those universities,” he said.

Kobach hired Claeys, his former campaign manager, as a senior adviser last year. At the time, the move raised objections from Democratic lawmakers and prompted an investigation by a watchdog group.

A 2014 opinion by the office of former Attorney General Derek Schmidt found that Kansas law does not prevent a legislator from concurrently serving as the executive director of a state board. It came in response to an inquiry by former Republican Rep. Lane Hemsley, who was also the executive director of the Kansas Dental Board.

It’s unclear if Holland’s bill has the support required to move forward. A two-thirds majority of lawmakers in each chamber of the Legislature would be needed to override a likely veto by Kelly.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.