Republicans seek to take back meditation room

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The inside-the-Capitol dispute between the governor and Republican lawmakers over the meditation room is bubbling up again.

The Legislature’s new spending plan includes language that would reclaim a room for meditation on the second floor of the Capitol that the governor now uses for constituent services.

Previous budgets from fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020 included stipulations that designated Room 221-E on the second floor of the Captiol as a meditation room.

A similar proviso was not included in the fiscal year 2021 budget, giving the governor’s office the chance to use the office as needed.

Last September, Gov. Laura Kelly’s staff moved the meditation room from the second floor to the ground floor of the Capitol to make room for constituent services staff.

The decision roiled Republicans who said the move didn’t have the full support of legislative and religious leaders.

“It’s one of those things where they jumped at an opportunity,” House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t think it was proper,” Hawkins said. “They had other options. They decided to do something that wasn’t necessary. It caused a lot of angst.”

The new meditation room is located on the Capitol’s ground floor in a room that had been used for shooting videos and television interviews.

Hawkins said very few people know how to reach the room now because it’s not in a very public location.

Hawkins said Kelly would likely veto that line item in the budget but didn’t know what what would happen then.

Kelly’s communication’s director, Sam Coleman, said the governor had not receved or reviewed the budget. It’s her policy, he said, not to comment until then.

At the time the move was made last fall, the governor’s office said the space was repurposed to accommodate its growing constituent services team and to ensure the  staff were able to follow recommended social distancing guidelines.

The Legislative Coordinating Council, which designates space in the Capitol, assigned the room to the governor’s office years ago.

The meditation room when it was located on the second floor.

But it did not designate it for a specific purpose.

However, former Gov. Sam Brownback agreed to allow the space to be used as a meditation room after lawmakers considered a bill designating the room for that purpose.

Lawmakers began considering whether to put a prayer room in the Capitol back in 2012, when the idea was first proposed by the late House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfried.

Siegfried introduced a bill establishing the room, which was first described as an “all-faiths chapel” but was later renamed as a “capitol prayer and meditation room.”

All costs associated with the construction, remodeling and furnishing of the room were to be paid for by private donations.

The House passed the bill that year on a 107-17 vote, but it died in the Senate.

Former Gov. Sam Brownback later made space available for the meditation room.

The Legislature revisited the issue in 2015 with a bill that specifically designated room 221-E as the meditation room.

The bill passed out of committee but died on the House calendar.