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Archive for Sunday, July 3, 2005

Second proposed amendment on courts surfaces in House

July 3, 2005

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— A second proposed constitutional amendment to limit judicial power surfaced Saturday in the House, giving its Republican leaders an alternative to show displeasure with the Kansas Supreme Court for ordering legislators to spend more money on education.

But before the House could take up the proposal, the Legislature adjourned until Wednesday with the issue still on the table.

Legislators missed Friday's court-imposed deadline to come up with an additional $143 million but continued working in their 11th day. Many conservative Republicans still viewed preserving the government's separation of powers as the overriding issue of the special session.

Also on Saturday, the court scheduled a hearing for Friday to determine whether it should order state money withheld from schools, effectively keeping them from opening, if legislators adjourn without complying with the court order.

GOP leaders had been pushing a proposal to clarify that the Legislature enjoys a monopoly over the power to appropriate money. But Democrats and some moderate Republicans opposed it, preventing it from getting the needed two-thirds majority, or 84 votes, last Sunday. The Senate passed the proposal last week.

Saturday morning, Republicans turned to a different proposal. It would prevent the judiciary from shutting down schools if it concluded - as it has - that legislators had not met their constitutional duty to provide suitable funding for schools.

Some Republicans thought an amendment to keep schools from closing would have a better chance of passing. But the same House members opposed both measures.

"We are not going to jump into something haphazardly," said Rep. Bruce Larkin, D-Baileyville.

If passed by the Legislature, an amendment would go to a statewide vote in August or early September, costing an estimated $1.7 million. Kansans then would have the final say on whether the constitution should be changed.

Since the session's start of June 22, there has been as much talk about the justices crossing the separation of powers line and encroaching on legislative turf as there has been about carrying out the court's mandate. Many legislators openly talked about payback time for the justices and criticized "activist judges" and "runaway courts."

The target of their anger was the court's directive to provide the additional spending. They argued the court has no authority to say exactly how much legislators must spend.

The proposal GOP leaders advanced first declares that courts and the executive branch have no authority to tell legislators to appropriate money or redirect funds after they have been allotted by lawmakers.

Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said he prefers to think of amending the constitution as "redeeming" it.

"I think it's incumbent upon us to stand and stand firm," he said.

Opponents said constitutional amendments should be considered during the Legislature's next regular session, which begins in January.

"We're not going to cave in on that," said Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. "I view a constitutional amendment as a power grab by the Legislature."

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