So much for a one-day special session in which Kansas legislators deal with one issue and go home.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced on Friday that he would bring the Kansas Legislature back to Topeka on Sept. 3 for a special session to deal with one issue: revising the state’s “Hard 50” law, which includes a provision that the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in a Virginia case. Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office already was working on a revision to the law, which could be passed quickly and at relatively little expense to Kansas taxpayers, who will be paying $35,000 to $40,000 per day while the Legislature is in session.
The need to call the session instead of waiting until January to fix the law was questionable, but at least the session wouldn’t be a big burden. Or so we thought.
Brownback has the power to call the session but not the power to strictly control the agenda. Legislative leaders say they will reject efforts to raise other issues, including anti-abortion legislation. However, there is one issue that legislators apparently can’t ignore: the confirmation of appointments made by the governor since the end of the last legislative session. Those appointments include three members of the Kansas Board of Regents, who were appointed last month, and a judge for the Kansas Court of Appeals, who must be named by Aug. 29. By law, those appointments must be considered for confirmation during the next legislative session, which now will begin Sept. 3 instead of next January.
The addition of these appointments to the special session’s agenda not only will increase the number of days legislators meet, it also raises some questions of politics and propriety, especially with the Court of Appeals appointment. This will be the first time a member of that court will be selected under a new process approved by legislators and signed by the governor earlier this year. Instead of the judge being selected from among three nominees forwarded by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, Brownback will have free rein to choose any judge he wants. The only requirement will be for that person to be confirmed by a like-minded Kansas Senate.
When this measure was approved, legislators were adamant the appointment would be an open process that provided ample opportunity for the public to be informed and comment on the court nominee before he or she was confirmed. However, Kansans have real reason to be skeptical of that claim. First the governor declined to reveal the names of people who were seeking the position. Now, it is possible that Brownback will name his selection for the court on Aug. 29 and have it confirmed by the Senate five or six days later, including the three-day Labor Day weekend. In the name of limiting the length of the special session, senators are likely to hold a hearing on the appointment one day and vote on it the next. Not a lot of time for the public to be involved.
It stretches credibility that the governor’s office was unaware of this situation when it set the special legislative session for Sept. 3. The governor can mitigate the problem somewhat by not waiting until the deadline to make his appointment, but the timing of this first appointment under the new process still will leave much to be desired.
It’s true that, regardless of the circumstances, Brownback’s appointment was likely to gain easy confirmation in the Senate, but Kansans have every right to be upset with the way this situation is playing out.