Politics & Government

Kansas Legislature passes court-funding bill with judge-selection provision

The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA — The budget for courts will head to the governor’s desk with a provision tying funding to a policy that lessens the power of the Kansas Supreme Court’s chief justice.

That policy is being challenged in court.

HB 2005 passed the Kansas House by a 88-26 vote on Monday. It passed the Kansas Senate the previous day, 25-14.

The bill appropriates $131.2 million for the judicial branch in fiscal year 2016, which begins in July, and $138.5 million the following year.

It ties the funding to a policy established last year that changed the way judicial districts’ chief judges are selected and gave them more authority over their districts’ budgets.

Under the policy change, the judges in each judicial district pick their chief judge. Chief judges had been appointed by the Supreme Court.

The policy change faces a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court and could be struck down in court.

The budget bill has a non-severability clause, which means that if any provision is struck down, the other provisions are as well. Some lawmakers see the non-severability clause as an attempt to keep the courts from rejecting the policy.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, quipped that if a judge rules that provision unconstitutional, he’ll also have to turn off the lights in the courthouse because there won’t be money for the electric bill.

However, if the Legislature had not passed a judicial budget, furloughs for judicial employees could have started next week and courts could have faced closure in coming weeks.

Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, called this a “devil’s choice.”

“We find ourselves and our courts held hostage,” he said, comparing the legislation to extortion. Finch begrudgingly voted in favor of the legislation to prevent closure of courts, which he said would have a host of consequences, including the endangerment of people seeking protection from stalking orders.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, has said that the policy is meant to increase local control of courts, which he contended results in better use of public dollars.

“Just like last year, local control is very important to the Kansas Legislature in deciding judicial funding,” he said last week. “If the court decides to strike down local control, we want the opportunity to re-evaluate judicial funding. That is literally the entirety of what we’re doing in this provision.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on the judicial budget bill. The House approved it 88-26 Monday. The Senate approved it 25-14 Sunday.

House

All area Republicans voted yes, except for Don Schroder, Hesston, who voted no, and these lawmakers who were absent: Mark Kahrs, Wichita; Les Mason, McPherson; Virgil Peck, Tyro.

All area Democrats voted no, except for Brandon Whipple, Wichita, who voted yes, and Carolyn Bridges and Roderick Houston, who were absent.

Senate

All area Republicans voted yes, except for Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick, who voted no.

Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, voted no.

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