Archive for Thursday, January 14, 2016

Legislative panels approve bills to keep Kansas courts open

January 14, 2016, 10:19 a.m. Updated January 14, 2016, 3:33 p.m.

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— Kansas legislators moved quickly Thursday to see that the state’s courts remain open despite a legal dispute that’s threatening the judiciary’s entire budget.

The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved separate but identical bills to repeal a 2015 law on the court system’s budget enacted by Republicans. The law tied all funding for the courts through June 2017 to a failed effort to curb the Kansas Supreme Court’s administrative power.

Both chambers could vote on their bills next week. Each committee forwarded its measure on a unanimous voice vote, with its Republican chairman saying that lawmakers never intended to shut the courts down.

“It’s got to be fixed,” District Judge Daniel Creitz, of Allen County, chief judge for the four-county 31st Judicial District in southeast Kansas, told the House committee.

Republican legislators in 2014 enacted a law stripping the Supreme Court of its power to appoint the chief judges in each of the state’s 31 judicial districts, giving it to the local judges. Then, with a lawsuit against that change pending, GOP lawmakers passed the 2015 law, which declared the court system’s entire budget “null and void” if the 2014 law were struck down.

The Supreme Court last month ruled unanimously that the 2014 law violated the Kansas Constitution by infringing on the power granted to the justices to administer the state’s courts.

Even before the high court ruled, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, persuaded a judge in Neosho County — in Creitz’s district — to put the 2015 law on hold until March 15, giving legislators time to rewrite or repeal it.

Critics of the attempt to lessen the Supreme Court’s administrative authority saw it as an attack on the judiciary’s independence by GOP conservatives who’ve criticized multiple high court rulings, particularly ones requiring lawmakers to boost spending on public schools.

But supporters of the 2014 and 2015 laws said they were an attempt to give local judges more say in how their courts operate.

“No one at any time has ever wanted to threaten the existence of the judicial budget,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, an Independence Republican and an architect of both laws.

But even if legislators speed a bill to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk, the courts could face a reduction in the funding already approved for them as lawmakers wrestle with budget issues. The judiciary’s current budget is $133 million, and its funding is set to rise during the fiscal year beginning July 1 to $138 million, or by 3.6 percent.

The state faces a $190 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year. During the House committee’s meeting, conservative Republican Rep. Jerry Lunn, of Overland Park, said lawmakers are concerned that a volatile global economy is on the brink of a recession that could reduce state revenues and force it to cut spending.

“We may have to make adjustments on the fly,” he said.

Salaries account for 94 percent of the court system’s entire budget. Creitz said cuts in existing funding levels will force the Supreme Court to close courthouses and give employees outside of judges unpaid days off.

Comments

Greg Cooper 1 year, 7 months ago

Brownkoch, I think your coalition is showing cracks in its foundation.

Now, Kansas voters, is the time for you to contact your legislators and let them know you are not in favor of the old boy (and girl) network that has been running us into the social and economic ground for the last few years. Take a few minutes to do a Google search for your senators and representatives, if you don't know how to contact them or who they are, and follow up with mountains of emails and phone calls letting them know your positions.

It doesn't matter what party you vote as long as you vote for the state of Kansas and not the state of Brownbackistan and its owners. There are tons of you moderate, THINKING, rather than REACTIONARY, Republicans and Democrats out there. All we have to do is form a coalition of reason rather than accept a cadre of wealth and we can take back this state.

Michael Kort 1 year, 7 months ago

Of course they never wanted to shut the courts down .

Why shut the courts down when the goal is to put them under the control of the 1%s' political operatives .

This was just an adventure to see if the legislature and brownie could take over the court system, by holding money over the court justices heads, as the 1% are want to do regularly, with their own lackeys, in private employment .

The 1% could care less about our constitution, the separation of powers in our form of government and the concepts of equality or justice .

The 1% just see the court system as another thing that can be mastered if you control the courts purse strings, as if that part of the government, could be one of their private purchases thru their control of our purchased and owned state legislature .

Calvin Anders 1 year, 7 months ago

So both committees essentially are unanimously admitting that they made a hollow and idiotic threat and now that the courts have called their bluff they are just going to put their tails between their legs and run? Where is their spirit? Where is the crazy stupid tenacity that prevents this group from ever admitting they are wrong about anything? I guess trying to deny the whole ill-conceived strategy ever existed is there only move. It seems like these guys are out to prove they are the dumbest ruling body currently in existence.

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