Kansas lawmakers have abandoned an effort to force Secretary of State Kris Kobach to pay out of his own pocket the costs of being held in contempt of court.
The decision ended a looming showdown between Kobach and the Legislature over who is on the hook financially. Kobach was dressed down by a federal judge during a civil trial over voter rights and ordered to pay attorney fees for the plaintiffs in the case.
The Legislature's decision to drop the effort means Kobach will be able to use state money to pay any fines stemming from being found in contempt.
During negotiations over the state budget, lawmakers on Tuesday removed a prohibition on using state money to pay for contempt fines or defend himself against contempt. The House had approved the rule last week.
Lawmakers negotiating a final deal on the budget removed the prohibition after a letter from Kobach’s office to top Republicans contending the ban would be illegal became public.
Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican who chairs the House’s budget committee, said the provision was generating “a lot of communication with one particular executive office… you know who I’m talking about.”
“So we just felt it would probably be best to go ahead and remove that item, even though it did pass with more than 100 votes on the House floor. We made our statement,” Waymaster said.
A spokesman for Kobach didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Judge Julie Robinson found Kobach in contempt in April. In addition to attorney fees, he could face additional fines after the judge makes her final ruling in the overall case. Kobach's office has said that it plans to appeal the contempt order.
The letter from Kobach's office, from secretary of state senior counsel Sue Becker, said the prohibition in the budget was illegal and would have required the state to expend significant resources in “any futile attempt to defend it.” Becker also contends Kobach was sued in his official capacity, not personally, shielding him from liability.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City, said including the prohibition in the budget was “fun while it lasted.” Most of the House was supportive of the concept, she said. The House approved the requirement 103-16.
Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, originally offered the prohibition on the House floor. He said he wasn’t surprised it had been stripped out.
“I would hope that in the event any of our statewide elected officials are found in contempt that they would do the right thing and bill themselves,” Jennings said.