Topeka The House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday night to prevent the courts from closing schools to force legislators to obey judicial orders on education funding.
The vote was 74-49, but supporters fell 10 votes shorts of the two-thirds majority necessary for passage. The House vote came shortly after the Senate approved the measure, 29-9.
Had the House approved the proposal, it would have gone on the ballot in a special statewide election in September, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million. Critics said legislators needed to take more time to consider a change in the Kansas Constitution.
"Sometimes we act in haste," said Rep. Ward Loyd, R-Garden City. "When we act in haste, we make waste. We need thoughtful deliberation about what this amendment does."
The measure was the second proposed change in the state constitution approved by the Senate in the wake of a Kansas Supreme Court mandate for legislators to provide an additional $143 million to public schools by July 1.
After legislators missed the court's deadline to increase education spending, the justices scheduled a Friday hearing on why they shouldn't cut off money to schools until legislators comply.
The moment the changes became a part of the constitution, after election results were certified, any order to close schools would have been void, legislators have said.
"We felt like we had a loaded gun to our heads, because the court could close the schools," said Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing. "No one - no one - wants that."
And Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, said: "I don't think our children should be held hostage."
The first proposed constitutional amendment approved by senators - making it clear that the Legislature has a monopoly over the power to appropriate money - failed to win the required two-thirds majority in the House.
Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, noted the thrust of the second proposed amendment was included in the $148.4 million school funding bill. He said there's concern that a statutory provision wouldn't carry the same force as a constitutional amendment.
"This is a very limited amendment," Vratil said. "It's targeted at one thing, to keep our K-12 system open."
Among opponents was Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, who said the Supreme Court was acting as any other court would do.
"It doesn't take a constitutional amendment to stop the Supreme Court from closing schools," said Hensley, D-Topeka. "All of us can avoid this by voting to adequately and equitably fund our schools."
House Republican leaders had insisted that an amendment to limit judicial power must pass for a school funding bill to win approval. But with the special session in its 12th day, they dropped their demand that a spending bill and an amendment be linked.
Before the Senate's debate, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said legislators should carefully examine any proposed amendment.
"Nothing that's going to be done by this Legislature in this special session will affect this court decision. Kansans need to understand that," Sebelius said in a news conference.
From the session's start, lawmakers, mainly conservative Republicans, have complained the court crossed the separation of powers line and encroached on the Legislature's turf. Many said the court has no authority to say exactly how much legislators must spend and talked about sending a message to the justices.