Having a special Kansas legislative committee meet in advance of a Sept. 3 special session called to fix the state’s “Hard 50” sentencing law is a good idea that perhaps could be emulated by the Kansas Senate committee assigned to consider the governor’s upcoming appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, announced last week that a committee of eight House members and six state senators will meet Aug. 26 to review Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s proposed changes to the sentencing law. The constitutionality of the law was called into question by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Virginia case. In Virginia, as in Kansas, judges are empowered to consider whether the aggravating factors in first-degree murder cases warrant a life sentence with no opportunity for parole for 50 years. The Supreme Court, however, said juries must be involved in that determination.
Citing the serious public safety issues involved, Gov. Sam Brownback called the special session of the Kansas Legislature specifically to fix the Hard 50 law. Brownback and Schmidt both have said they believe the changes can be approved quickly, and the session should last no more than three days. Having the House-Senate committee meet the week before the session should give legislators some extra time to consider the proposed legislation and increase the chances for quick action when the session begins.
A similar strategy might be applied to the Court of Appeals appointment.
Although the governor had said he wanted the session to be narrowly focused on the Hard 50 law, legislators are required by law to consider several appointments made by the governor since the end of the regular session, including one to the Court of Appeals. The governor has until Aug. 29 to make that appointment, and it would be possible for an appointee to be announced and confirmed by the Kansas Senate within less than a week.
However, if Brownback announces his appointment a week or two earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have time to schedule hearings on that appointment ahead of the special session, giving both legislators and the Kansas public additional time to consider and comment on the appointee’s qualifications before the confirmation vote. If hearings aren’t conducted until the special session begins, there likely wouldn’t be more than a day or two between the hearings and the confirmation vote.
Sen. Jeff King, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in July that, “Setting the precedent of an open, thorough process is very important,” in considering the first judicial nominee under the new appointment process. The tight time frame posed by the special session makes that more difficult, but not impossible if the governor and Senate leaders work together.