A bill aimed at preserving open court documents and proceedings has overcome a major hurdle in the Kansas Legislature after the House passed it almost unanimously on Friday.
The bill, HB 2825, would require all courts to conduct hearings before sealing documents or closing proceedings. Judges would have to state publicly why they took such an action as well as give notice of their plans to all parties involved.
The bill, which now heads to the state Senate for further debate, stems from two sealed, abortion-related lawsuits that went before the Kansas Supreme Court, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe).
The bill’s impact, however, on both the public and media’s access to court cases is, at best, nonexistent, said Mike Merriam, a lawyer representing the Kansas Press Association. At worst, he said, it could actually lessen the standards which a court would have to meet when seeking to seal records and proceedings.
“I’m just afraid that in criminal cases, if this statute is on the books, it is going to be too lenient in closing cases,” Merriam said.
He noted that Kansas law regarding criminal cases already relies on a U.S. Supreme Court case that requires courts to meet five different standards before closing cases. This bill would entail courts only meet one “good cause” finding, he said. In civil cases, this bill could help, but not too many of those instances come up, Merriam said. The two abortion-related suits that prompted Kinzer to introduce the bill are criminal.