Kansans should be aware of a constitutional crisis in the making in Topeka – one that’s linked to but also distinct from the unresolved school-finance lawsuit. It’s about court funding, and it risks both the balance of powers and the ability of the state’s judiciary to function.
The state constitution gives the Kansas Supreme Court “general administrative authority over all courts in this state.” But a 2014 law cemented judicial funding to policy reforms, taking away the high court’s power to control budgets and pick chief administrative district judges. Leaving no doubt about legislative intent of the punitive law, a non-severability clause guaranteed that if a court struck down the policy changes as unconstitutional, the judicial funding would fall, too.
Legislators readied a second strike in the wake of the February filing of a lawsuit by Chief Judge Larry T. Solomon of the 30th Judicial District (Kingman, Barber, Harper, Sumner and Pratt counties) challenging last year’s law. House Bill 2005 has another non-severability clause, this time specifying the bill’s judicial funding for the next two fiscal years will vanish if any provision of either the new bill or the 2014 law “is stayed or is held to be invalid or unconstitutional.” Again, the message is clear: The judiciary will get its money unless it judges the laws unconstitutional.
The latest bill was approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee but awaits action in the wrap-up session that begins April 29.
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If lawmakers have any respect for the state constitution, they will think better of such legislative overreach, and ensure that the judiciary has the funding and independence it needs to serve Kansans.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman