A Kansas Senate leader is promoting several money-saving measures for the judicial system in response to a warning from the state Supreme Court’s chief justice in a major speech that budget problems could shorten the hours judicial offices are open.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King sent a letter Thursday to Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, asking him and the high court’s other justices to publicly embrace five efficiency measures from a special commission the high court itself appointed in 2011 to study court operations. King provided a copy of his letter to The Associated Press.
The proposals include expanded use of video conferencing for routine criminal court hearings, streamlined appeals of rulings from non-lawyer magistrates and more options for courts in collecting unpaid fees. King also is asking the Supreme Court to publicly back two proposals that would boost court fees, including by raising the cost of filing a lawsuit in district court to $195 from $186.
“This seemed to present the perfect opportunity to initiate some judicial-legislative cooperation,” King said during an interview. “If there are things we can do to help with the judicial budget, we should do it.”
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Nuss did not immediately respond to the letter. Supreme Court spokeswoman Lisa Taylor said the chief justice was tied up with other business during the day and might not have had a chance to review it.
King, an Independence Republican who served on the high court’s special commission, sent the letter a day after Nuss gave the annual State of the Judiciary address. Nuss said the court system will be forced to furlough employees and shut offices for extra days unless it receives an additional $8.3 million for the fiscal year beginning in July.
Nuss’ address came only a week after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback pointedly suggested in his State of the State address – with five justices, including Nuss, present – that the courts have no authority under the state constitution to tell legislators how much to spend on public schools. The Supreme Court is reviewing a lower court order that legislators must increase annual spending on public schools by at least $440 million, and a decision could come any day.
But King described his letter as an offer to Nuss for legislators and the courts to work together. The senator said he was responding to what he saw as an “olive branch” from the chief justice, who said in his speech, “The lines of communication are open.”
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Video of this year’s State of the Judiciary Address: http://bit.ly/1d082Mp