Kansas Senate advances docket fee increase bill

TOPEKA | The Kansas Supreme Court could impose temporary increases in docket fees to offset budget cuts for the state's court system under a bill that gained first-round approval in the Senate.

The voice vote Wednesday puts the bill in position for a final vote of approval, expected Thursday. If it passes, it will go to the House.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Owens said nearly all the judiciary's budget for the current fiscal year is for personnel, and there's little else to cut.

"If you want to see courts closed for furloughs, then don't vote for this bill," said the Owens, an Overland Park Republican.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill Tuesday revising the budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, trimming nearly $5 million from the judiciary's $112 million budget.

The court system has about 1,500 nonjudicial employees, including clerks, court service officers and secretaries. There are about 300 judges, whose salaries can't be reduced during their terms.

The judiciary also will be facing reduced spending in the upcoming fiscal year 2010 budget, but how much of a cut hasn't been determined.

The bill repeals a 2006 law that prohibits the Supreme Court from raising docket fees, as it did from April 1, 2002, to June 30, 2006, to make up for budget shortages. It also would give the Supreme Court specific authority to establish additional charges for court procedures.

Sen. Terry Bruce opposed the bill, saying that while courts need additional funds, it's a decision best left to the Legislature.

"I believe the Legislature has the duty and authority to set fees. The more prudent thing is for the Legislature to make it up by raising the docket fees. It's not a responsibility we should pass on the court," the Hutchinson Republican said.