Kansas Governor Bypasses Lawmakers, Creates Children’s Advocate | Kansas News
By JOHN HANNA and ANDY TSUBASA FIELD, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) – Governor Laura Kelly on Monday established an independent office to examine complaints against Kansas’ foster care system and recommend changes to child protection policies, a long-standing goal of advocates of abused and neglected children.
The Democratic governor’s decision to create the office by executive order bypasses the Republican-controlled legislature. He found himself in a deadlock on the issue earlier this year after some lawmakers pushed to place the new office under the GOP official who is expected to challenge Kelly’s re-election next year.
Kelly issued an order to create the Children’s Advocate Division within the Department of State Administration, the head of which reports to the governor. The governor would appoint the director of the new division for a five-year term.
“We want it to be an office that works on behalf of our children and on behalf of our families,” she said after signing the order at a children’s museum in Topeka.
Kelly said that even if she would appoint the director of the children’s advocate division, that person’s five-year tenure would make the office “about as independent as it gets.”
Many Republican lawmakers have argued that the governor should not appoint the children’s advocate or participate in the nomination because the new office oversees state agencies under the governor’s direct control. GOP senators insisted that the children’s lawyer be placed in the attorney general’s office.
Republican Senator Molly Baumgardner of Louisburg said the Children’s Advocate’s office would likely process material from whistleblowers.
“We felt it was appropriate because of all the confidential documents that enter the attorney general’s office on a daily basis,” she said.
Baumgardner called Kelly’s arguments about the independence of his division “dishonest” and noted that a future governor could rescind the order creating it.
The Republican-controlled Senate in March approved a proposal for a children’s advocate in the attorney general’s office, only to see her stagnate in the GOP-controlled chamber. Many Democrats viewed the measure as partisan, as Attorney General Derek Schmidt is widely expected to be the GOP candidate for governor next year against Kelly.
A House committee has approved its own bipartisan plan to have the governor and chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court appoint the children’s advocate, with the legislature directing the work of the advocate’s office. But GOP leaders never scheduled a full debate in the House.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative Corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
On Twitter, follow John Hanna at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna and Andy Tsubasa Field at https://twitter.com/AndyTsubasaF
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