Kansas Governor Signs Bill on Law Enforcement Body Cameras

Kansas Governor Signs Bill on Law Enforcement Body Cameras
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(AP) – Kansas will make law enforcement body camera footage more accessible to the families of suspects killed by officers and the state will be required to release basic information about child abuse deaths under a new state law.

Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a single bill Thursday containing the new policies on child abuse deaths and body camera footage. The changes take effect July 1. He also signed a bill that will increase penalties for political candidates filing late campaign finance reports and issued an executive order requiring more transparency from state agencies in providing information to people seeking government jobs.

Both the Republican governor and top lawmakers had declared that government transparency would be a major issue during the GOP-controlled Legislature’s annual session, which ended last week. But their record was mixed: Four major bills passed while more than a dozen died, most without even a committee hearing.

Still, Colyer and backers of the bills he signed view them as significant progress. Colyer had a news conference surrounded by legislators, transparency advocates and the family of a man killed by a sheriff’s deputy in October in the small south-central Kansas town of Sun City.

“The process will continue forward,” Colyer said, promising that transparency will remain a “watchword for us.”

The body camera footage policy was a response to the inconsistent access given to families in several cases. The law will require agencies to allow the families of suspects killed by officers to see the footage within 20 days of a request.

The governor and the state Department for Children and Families pushed for more disclosure on child abuse deaths after child homicides in recent years. The new law will not only require the DCF to release the names and ages of children killed and the dates of their deaths, but a summary of abuse reports received by the agency and how it responded.

Colyer previously signed other legislation requiring lobbyists to disclose more information about their attempts to influence executive branch agencies, including government contracting decisions. He also signed a bill requiring the state to compile reports on assets seized by law enforcement agencies.

But the Legislature rejected or ignored bills that would have made its lawmaking more transparent to the public by providing more information about bills’ sponsors, requiring committees to take recorded votes and requiring audio broadcasts of all committee meetings. Lawmakers did nothing to end the much-criticized “gut and go” tactic, in which a bill is stripped of its contents in favor of language from an unrelated proposal.

And the state’s new policy on body camera footage was a compromise between law enforcement groups and transparency advocates that doesn’t mean greater access for news organizations or the general public.

“This is really just a first step,” said Kent Cornish, president of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters. “This summer, we hope to get together to come back with a bill next year that also opens the video up to the public.”

In Topeka, the father of 30-year-old Dominique White didn’t see footage from his son’s fatal Sept. 28 shooting by two officers for more than two months. In the Sun City incident, 42-year-old Steven Myers died after a deputy shot him with a bean-bag round at close range, and the Barber County sheriff’s department released the footage publicly after Myers’ widow went to court.

Myers’ widow, Kristina, told reporters after Colyer’s news conference that family members experienced “absolute anguish” waiting to see what the footage showed.