Resolutions of support for a free press in Kansas lose steam

The resolutions come in the wake of the Marion County Record raid and lawmakers' own attempt to strip public television funding.



February 21, 2024 - 3:11 PM

Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer asked for support of the free press in Kansas that didn’t make “political hay” out of his newspaper’s raid. Photo by Max McCoy/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Several resolutions profess Kansas lawmakers’ support of a free press in the wake of the Marion County Record raid and lawmakers’ own attempts to strip public television funding. None of the resolutions are gaining traction.

Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin, D-Leawood, the force behind one House resolution, said the Legislature needed to show support for the state’s press.

“I thought it was really important for us to make a statement that we are committed unwaveringly to the free press,” Poskin said. “When we are sworn in, our oath says that we will uphold the U.S. and the Kansas Constitution. And clearly freedom of press is foundational to both of those documents.”

House Resolution 6032 is endorsed by more than 40 lawmakers from both parties and upholds the Kansas House of Representatives’ support for free press in Kansas.

“Journalists are important participants in democracy and, increasingly, a vital source of local news and educational information within their communities,” reads the resolution. “… We hereby affirm our unwavering support for the free press in the state of Kansas.”

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is assisting with the Marion inquiry. The resolution asks the state’s attorney general to report to the Legislature about the CBI’s findings and whether any Kansans’ civil rights were violated. 

Over in the Senate, seven lawmakers are endorsing Senate Resolution 1733, a resolution that affirms Senate support for the free press and also calls for a report about the CBI’s findings. 

House Resolution 6039, supported by about 40 lawmakers, leaves out any mention of the Marion raid. This version emphasizes “the responsibility of the people to not abuse the freedom of speech in a defamatory, untruthful or grossly negligent manner.”

“The Kansas legislature recognizes that the public depends on the accuracy and integrity of information providers,” the resolution reads. “… We affirm to those who speak, write and publish information our responsibility to strengthen the public trust in these liberties while avoiding abuse thereof.”

Marion County Record publisher and editor Eric Meyer said he could not support HR 6039, and asked for support of HR 6032 instead, calling the resolution one that didn’t make “political hay” out of the constitutional violations that happened to the Record staff.

“While I laud anyone’s willingness to reaffirm belief in constitutional rights they swore to uphold upon taking office, I find that the bill as written goes out of its way to apply conditions to that support, ignores the situation at hand at our newspaper in your district, and blatantly attempts to transfer sympathy for our cause to other, largely unrelated issues such as speech on campus,” Meyer said.

When asked about Meyer’s disapproval, Rep. Scott Hill, R-Abilene, one of the driving forces behind the resolution, said he was happy with constitutional support of the press.

“I’m happy with the Constitution, I love it,” Hill said. “I’m so glad we have free speech, I’m so glad we have free press in this country, it’s an awesome country.”

All three resolutions have been placed in committees. Poskin said she was unsure of the fate of either House resolution.

“It just sounds like they killed both of them,” Poskin said. “It was sentenced to death by committee. … It’s disappointing that the House can’t make a statement about free press and free speech. We can pass them on Israel, Ireland, Taiwan, you know, all kinds of places but not one that is an expedient matter in the state of Kansas.”