TOPEKA – State representatives approved a measure Tuesday to overrule local laws limiting house-to-house political campaigning.
But they turned aside an amendment that would have guaranteed the right to campaign in privately owned apartment buildings and condo complexes.
House Bill 2558 would prohibit cities and counties from regulating or banning door-to-door campaigning.
“This is our chance to talk with the voters of our communities,” said Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe, who carried the bill on the floor.
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But the representatives balked at an amendment by Rep. Joseph Scapa, R-Wichita, that would have stopped owners of apartment buildings and similar housing arrangements from barring campaign workers from their buildings.
“This is already legal, and this is a clarification that makes it very clear that if you go into an apartment complex to canvass, that the apartment manager cannot run you off and run you out of there,” Scapa said.
He said some property managers allow candidates they support to campaign to renters in their buildings, while barring entry to others.
Scapa got support from Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Wichita, who said apartment complex owners and homeowners associations that ban campaigning on their premises are infringing on the rights of people who live there to participate in the political process.
“If you have somebody trying to stop you from speaking with people that really want to be involved in the campaign and talk to you and ask questions, I don’t think it’s right,” Huebert said. “I think the Constitution says that you have that right to speak with those people and the manager of a complex couldn’t, shouldn’t be able to stop you from speaking with people that live in that site.”
Other representatives framed the issue as one of private-property rights.
“Does your amendment also take in the fact that you could be trespassing on private property? Does that make it legal?” asked Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka.
Although Scapa answered that his amendment wouldn’t legalize trespassing, Alcala was unconvinced.
“It tells property managers, company managers of private residences and landlords of private residences that I can do whatever the heck I want and your property rights mean nothing to me,” Alcala said. “And I think that’s very unfair.”
Rep. Craig McPherson, R-Overland Park, said he supported banning local government from restricting campaigning because government is barred by the First Amendment from regulating free speech.
However, he said, First Amendment protection applies only to acts by the government, not private individuals.
Scapa’s amendment failed 27-89. Shortly after that, the unamended bill passed 122-3.
But Huebert said later that he talked with McPherson and Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, who had also expressed concern with the Scapa amendment.
Huebert said they had agreed to try to work on a new amendment that would allow candidates access to renters while alleviating the property rights concerns that scuttled Scapa’s amendment.
The new amendment could be added when the bill comes up for consideration in the Senate, he said.