Topeka Another proposed constitutional amendment aimed at curtailing the authority of the Kansas Supreme Court has failed in the Legislature, but supporters said Wednesday's vote wasn't the final word.
"I don't think it brings the debate to an end for those of us who think that this is an issue of paramount importance," said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe. "We'll continue to work it."
The measure would have clarified that the courts couldn't tell legislators how much money to spend - something the Supreme Court did last year on school finance.
The 66-58 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority, or 84 votes, needed to send the measure to the Senate. Had it passed the Legislature, voters in November would have had the opportunity to make it part of the Kansas Constitution.
"People just are more interested in trying to solve the education issues that we have than trying to take a slap at the court," said Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who voted against the proposal.
The proposal is among several ideas floated during the session as a way to show that legislators feel the court overstepped its authority when it ordered them to spend an additional $143 million - forcing a special session last summer - to meet their constitutional obligation to adequately fund public schools.
During last year's special session, the Senate passed the same proposed amendment, but the House never mustered the necessary votes to follow suit.
House Speaker Doug Mays said he was disappointed but not surprised the amendment was defeated again.
"I think we have a number of people in the Legislature who approve of what the court did," said Mays, R-Topeka. "Sooner or later the court is going to go too far and the public will demand we do something."
That could come later this summer, he suggested, if the justices reject the Legislature's school finance package and order more spending or attempt to prevent schools from opening next fall.
Aside from making clear that only the Legislature can appropriate money, the proposal also said "any existing order" directing legislators to appropriate money would be unenforceable once the provision was adopted by voters.
That wouldn't address last year's court order, because it has been carried out. But it would negate any court order directing legislators to spend money that might be issued between now and enactment of the proposal.
Displeasure with the courts, especially by conservative Republicans, resulted in the House last week clipping $3.7 million from the judiciary's budget in a plan to finance state government after July 1, leaving less than $108 million. The House also said the Supreme Court couldn't raise the cost of filing lawsuits and other fees to help fund its budget, as it did during the past four years.
Senators, however, are working on a proposed budget that would permit the Supreme Court to continue levying its surcharges. Negotiators for the two chambers will write the final version of any spending plan.
Discontent with the judiciary also was seen when the Senate two weeks ago tried, but failed, to pass a proposed amendment requiring confirmation by senators before justices could serve on the Supreme Court.
That would have been in addition to the current process, where a nominating commission interviews applicants and picks three candidates from whom the governor makes the selection.
Last month, the House Judiciary Committee rejected a proposal to scrap the nominating commission process and replace it with justices being appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)