TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Dozens of Kansas lawmakers launched an effort Tuesday to direct the state's attorney general to release information from an investigation into a police raid last year on a weekly newspaper, but it wasn't clear that their measure would get a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Thirty-five Democrats and 10 Republicans in the Kansas House introduced a resolution condemning the Aug. 11 raid of the Marion County Record's offices, the home of its publisher and the home of a city council member in Marion in central Kansas. The resolution would direct Attorney General Kris Kobach to provide a report on whether the investigation found that people's civil rights were violated.
The raid put Marion, a town of about 1,900 residents about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, at the center of a national debate over press freedom. It also focused an intense spotlight on the police chief who led the raid because the paper had been looking into his past.
The 98-year-old mother of Publisher Eric Meyer died the day after the raid, something he attributed to the stress it caused, and within days the local prosecutor declared there wasn't enough evidence to support the raid. Legal experts said it likely violated state or federal law, and then-Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody resigned in early October.
“This is something that happened in Kansas that garnered international attention and concern about the state of our free press in the world and very particularly here in Kansas,” said state Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin, a Kansas City-area Democrat and a leading sponsor of the resolution. “I felt it was really important for the Kansas House to send a strong message.”
The resolution is likely to go to the House Judiciary Committee. Chair Susan Humphries, a Wichita Republican, said she needs to review the measure, adding, “I can't say for sure that I'm going to have a hearing.”
Kobach, an elected Republican, said that if anyone is charged with a crime, information will come out during the legal proceedings.
He said when no one is charged with a crime, "Then our system has a preference for not throwing everything on the table.”
Cody has said he was investigating whether the newspaper and city council member had illegally violated a local business owner's privacy or committed other crimes by obtaining her driving record, which included a past drunken driving offense. Meyer has said the newspaper only verified the information's authenticity, and no criminal charges have been filed.
Kobach oversees the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which took over the investigation into the newspaper and the city council member. Later, Kansas officials asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to look into the circumstances surrounding the raid.
Meyer said Tuesday that he'd like to have a formal statement from authorities that the newspaper or its staff is no longer under investigation. He said making information public would be “a first step,” but there are questions about why the raid was necessary and about how search warrants are issued in Kansas.
The lead sponsors of the resolution are Poskin and another Democrat, Rep. Boog Highberger, of Lawrence. Meyer said it could be “the kiss of death” for the measure.
“You know, if a Democrat said the sun is going to rise in the east in the morning, the Republicans would deny it — and vice versa, I might add,” he said.
Several legislators and staffers said the resolution drew criticism from some Republicans for explicitly linking the raid to the death of Meyer's mother, Joan Meyer, the paper's co-owner.
The resolution also declares that the raid undermined "the role of journalism in encouraging engaged, civic-minded, critical thinkers.”
Asked about the resolution, House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said in an emailed statement that it would go through “the normal committee process” — which gives a committee chair wide discretion in what measures to consider.
“Freedom of speech and law and order are two very important considerations here,” Hawkins said.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of state Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin’s first name.