Topeka In reaction to the landmark 2005 school finance ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court, the House on Tuesday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit the judicial and executive branches from ordering the Legislature to spend money.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, described that court ruling as a "rogue decision" that was forcing the Legislature to reassert its authority over the purse strings of government.
The state Supreme Court decision said the Legislature failed to abide by the Kansas Constitution and adequately fund schools. The court ordered the Legislature to increase school funding.
State Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said the court decision violated a core American value of government that elected representatives — not the courts — have the power to appropriate tax dollars.
Gov. Sam Brownback and state Senate leaders also support the amendment.
"Our state constitution should make it very clear that the power to authorize and require state spending belongs exclusively to the people's elected representatives," Brownback said.
Opponents of the proposal said it would disrupt the balance of powers between the three branches of government and hinder citizens' rights to seek redress in court.
"It's one thing to say that the judiciary cannot make an appropriation. It's quite a different thing to say the judiciary will have no power to tell the Legislature to carry out a constitutional duty," said state Rep. Bob Brookens, R-Marion.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said "this amendment will cause a great deal of damage down the line."
He said the Legislature has a constitutional duty to fund schools adequately and if it fails to do so, citizens should have the right to sue asking the courts to intervene.
State Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said the amendment would place the Legislature above the law.
If House Concurrent Resolution 5006 is supported by two thirds of the House and Senate, the measure will be put on the November ballot for voters to decide.
A final vote in the House is expected Wednesday. It was advanced Tuesday 91-31 in a preliminary vote, which exceeds the 84 vote total that make up two thirds in the House.
Meanwhile, the state faces more school finance litigation.
After the 2005 ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court, the Legislature responded by approving new funding to raise the base state aid for all students and then targeted funds for students who were deemed at risk of failing. But legislators have taken back much of that funding over the past three years as state revenues declined during the recession.
A trial in the latest school finance lawsuit is set to start in June.