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House OKs judicial process change

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Friday, Feb. 25, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.

TOPEKA — A bill to change the way the state chooses appellate judges has been approved by the House.

House Bill 2101 would bring Kansas more closely into line with the federal system of selection, with the governor nominating judges who would then have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Under the current system, a special commission selects up to three nominees whose names are sent to the governor. The governor can choose any of them or reject all and ask for new nominees.

The nominating commission is made up of four members and a chairperson chosen by the state's licensed lawyers, and four lay members who cannot be attorneys, appointed by the governor.

The Senate has no role in the current selection process.

Changing the way judges are selected has been a key priority for Americans for Prosperity, a political group that advocates for minimal government involvement in business. Gov. Sam Brownback has also been strongly supportive.

Opponents include the League of Women Voters, the Kansas and Wichita Bar Associations, the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel and retired Supreme Court Justice Fred N. Six.

Opponents charge that the change would inject partisan politics into the selection system, harming the independence of the judiciary.

Supporters say the current system is undemocratic because only lawyers can participate in selecting the majority of the commissioners who nominate the judges.

The change would affect only the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Bill would require sales tax disclosure

A bill that would require retailers to print cumulative state and local sales tax rates on all receipts or to display the rates on easily readable signs near cash registers won approve in the Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 1, which will now be considered by the House, would let shoppers see not just the amount of tax they are paying on their purchases, but the percentage as well. Businesses without cash registers would be required to post the rate in a highly visible area.

Supporters also have said the disclosure would tip off consumers when they are making purchases in special districts where sales taxes are higher to pay for economic development projects.

Schools can't raise extra tax, House votes

After complaints that poor students would be left behind, the House rejected a bill to allow school districts to tax themselves extra to pay for sports, bands and other extracurricular activities.

House Bill 2201 would have authorized districts, with voter consent, to raise property taxes to pay for extra activities beyond what the state requires schools to offer. It was sought by Johnson County lawmakers and shot down primarily by a coalition of Wichita and rural representatives who complained it would result in unequal education.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said rich communities with high property tax bases would be able to offer students a broad menu of activities by raising taxes as little as one-half of 1 mill. Poor districts would have to raise taxes 10 or more mills to get the same kind of dollars, he said.

"One of the proponents of this bill said, 'Life isn't fair, so why would you expect schools to be fair?' " Ward said.

Proponents said they are expecting major cuts to school funding and wanted to give districts an option to continue to fund programs such as Japanese language instruction, jazz bands and minor sports such as diving.

"I know you may not believe this, but I brought it with a pure heart for the kids," said House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe.

The vote on the bill was 54 in favor to 61 against.

Senate OKs rural opportunity zones

In an effort to attract college graduates to rural areas of Kansas, the Senate passed legislation proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback to provide tax exemptions and set up a student-loan repayment program for some who relocate.

Senate Bill 198 designates 50 counties as rural opportunity zones that need professionals and college graduates to provide services, particularly in medical and dental fields.

Most of the areas have experienced population declines of at least 10 percent.

Taxpayers who relocate to a rural opportunity zone before Jan. 1, 2012, would receive a full tax credit against their state income tax liability for 2012 to 2016, provided they lived outside the state for at least five years before moving to the zone, had Kansas source income of less than $10,000 for each of the previous five years, and maintained their residency during the entire tax year for which the credit is to be claimed.

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