TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill Monday to ensure that Kansas courts remain funded, something that had been in doubt as a result of a standoff between the courts and the Legislature.
The governor and lawmakers faced a March 15 deadline to preserve the judicial branch’s funding after a recent court decision struck down a policy change that the Legislature had tied to court funding last year.
Brownback said in a statement that his signing of HB 2449 means that “several litigation matters against the State should be concluded and any questions about Judicial branch funding availability are resolved.”
The bill, the second piece of legislation the governor has signed this session, repeals a provision in last year’s judicial budget that tied court funding to a policy change.
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The Legislature passed a bill in 2014 to have chief judges in district court be elected by their peers. The chief judges had been appointed by the Kansas Supreme Court.
A district court chief judge filed a lawsuit last year challenging the policy’s constitutionality. Lawmakers responded by adding a provision to the judicial branch budget that tied funding to the policy.
When a district court struck down the policy – a decision later upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court, which cited the separation of powers – funding for the courts was put in doubt.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt obtained a court order blocking the provision to strike down funding from taking effect until March, to give lawmakers and the governor time to resolve the issue.
Another lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s decision to tie court funding to the policy remains pending.
Schmidt issued a statement thanking lawmakers for their swift repeal of the funding provision. “The risk that all state funding for the judiciary could be eliminated – an outcome nobody wanted – has now passed,” he said.
Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing four Kansas judges suing the state, said he was pleased the governor and lawmakers “recognized the necessity to correct the constitutional nightmare that they created.”
Irigonegaray said that he and his clients would determine whether to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit in the wake of the governor’s decision to sign the legislation.