A bill to increase funding for Kansas public schools that passed the House will not move in the Senate until both chambers approved a bill to strip to Kansas judiciary of jurisdiction to hear K-12 funding disputes.
First, some background.
As mentioned on this blog over the years the Kansas Supreme Court has issued several decisions finding the legislature’s system and amounts for public education were unconstitutional under a provision that
The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.
Dozens of constitutional amendments detailed here have been filed over the last decade to strip the Kansas courts of jurisdiction to hear cases under this provision and to allow the legislature to set whatever funding levels and funding sources it wished.
The Kansas Supreme Court has given the legislature until April 30 to come up with a constitutional funding formula.
The House, in response, today passed HB 2445 to provide additional funding.
Senate leadership, however, has announced no funding bill will be taken up in the Senate until a constitutional amendment (HCR 5029 or something similar) is approved by the House and Senate and sent to voters. Moreover, local media reports if the amendment fails to pass the House, Senate leaders will simply not take up the funding bill at all.
That amendment would amend the constitution to read
As all political power is inherent in the people, the legislature shall make determine suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. The determination of the total amount of funding that constitutes suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power, and shall be made as provided by law. Such power is committed to the legislature under article 2 of this constitution and shall be shown due respect by the other branches of government. No court, or other tribunal, established by this constitution or otherwise by law shall alter, amend, repeal or otherwise abrogate such power, nor shall such power be exercised by, either directly or indirectly, by any such court or other tribunal.
SB 181 AS AMENDED AND APPROVED BY FULL SENATE
- Authorizes the chief judge of each judicial district to recall any warrants directly related to the suspension, waive reinstatement and collection fees directly related to the suspension, and offer payment plans, to be administered by the county or district attorney, to persons who are unable to pay in full.
- Authorizes a person unable to pay due to hardship or lack of employment to enter into an additional agreement with the court to receive a credit against any fines imposed by performing community service or attending classes aimed at developing job skills and gaining employment, as approved by the court Provides credit would be $5 for each full hour spent by the person on community service and $8 for each full hour spent attending classes.
Approved by full Senate 2/23/17. In House Judiciary Committee.
A plan (SB 439) to impeach members of the Kansas Supreme Court for “usurping” the legislature cleared the Senate today on a 21-19 vote. During debate proponents cited to various decisions of the state’s supreme court as proving the need to be able to remove the justices, in particular decisions by the court regarding school finance. Proponents argued that while the state constitution limited impeachment to “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” that “other high crimes and misdemeanors” under the “original meaning” of the term was not limited to criminal offenses but include political actions as well.
Update: media reports here and here. Key quote: “These are not necessarily criminal acts, nor do they have to be.”
The new, expanded list of impeachable offenses included in “other high crimes and misdemeanors” now includes
- commission of offenses which bear on the justice’s fitness for the duties such justice holds, which such justice is bound by oath or affirmation to perform;
- commission of other indictable criminal offenses;
- commission of a breach of the public trust;
- commission of a breach of judicial ethics;
- failure to perform adequately the duties of office;
- attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power;
- attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government;
- exhibiting discourteous conduct toward litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers or others with whom the justice deals in an official capacity;
- exhibiting wanton or reckless judicial conduct;
- exhibiting personal misbehavior or misconduct;
- failure to properly supervise, administer or discipline judicial personnel;
- such other actions which in accordance with section 28 of article 2 of the constitution of the state of Kansas may constitute grounds for impeachment
Earlier today a plan (discussed here, here, and here) to impeach judges chosen via the state’s merit/commission system, including most specifically the state’s supreme court, cleared for a second time a Kansas Senate committee.
SB 439 targets with threat of impeachment only those judges/justices chosen via the state’s merit selection system
in an impeachment proceeding against a justice of the supreme court or in a proceeding for discipline, suspension or removal for cause against an appointed judge of the district court, the grounds for such impeachment or for such discipline, suspension or removal for cause shall include, but not be limited to, any one or more of the following
The list of impeachable offenses in the constitution is limited to treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Proponents claim that “high crimes” refer to the office held and not the severity of the crimes themselves and that there need to be consequences for political offenses.
The new list of impeachable offenses as applied to the appointed judges/justices would now include
- attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government
- attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power
- commission of treason
- commission of bribery
- commission of other indictable criminal offenses
- commission of a breach of the public trust
- commission of a breach of judicial ethics
- failure to perform adequately the duties of office
- exhibiting wanton or reckless judicial conduct
- exhibiting personal misbehavior or misconduct
- failure to adequately supervise subordinate employees
An amendment adopted during the committee debate includes the creation of a list of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for executive branch officials that include “attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or judicial branch of government.”
This is the second time the bill has passed, the first time was as a late unannounced amendment to another bill.
A proposal in Kansas to give the state’s governor a longer list of names to select from in picking trial court judges via the state’s merit/commission system was amended on the House floor yesterday to require all applicants for district court judgeships be released and male almost all nominating commission proceedings public.
SB 128, as substituted by the House, increased the number of names sent to the governor from judicial nominating commissions to fill district court vacancies from minimum 2/maximum 3 to minimum 3/maximum 5.
The floor amendment offered and adopted requires the names of all applicants be released for such judgeships.
The chairperson [of the judicial nominating commission] shall make the name of each person whose nomination is accepted available to the public whenever the commission stops accepting nominations for such appointment, but not less than 10 days prior to submitting the names of nominees to the governor.
In addition the floor amendment specifies commission proceedings would be subject to the state’s open meetings act/open to the public and prohibits closed or executive meetings except for sensitive financial or background check information.
The amendment was approved on a 77-41 vote. The amended bill now goes to the full House for a final vote before going back to the Senate.
A plan similar to one in Missouri that limits how much a local government can rely on court fees/fines is on the agenda in Kansas. SB 403, set for a hearing next week, prohibits municipal governments from receiving more than 10% of their “annual general operating revenue” from municipal court traffic citations. Anything above the 10% budget threshold would have to be sent to the state general revenue fund. Moreover, 70% of all revenue from traffic infractions on a road defined as part of the “national network of highways” would have to go to the state’s highway fund.
In addition, the municipal judge would have to certify annually the courts are meeting 9 minimum standards, including
- defendants in custody pursuant to an initial arrest warrant issued by the municipal court are given an opportunity to be heard by the municipal judge in person, by telephone or via video conferencing as soon as practicable, and in no event more than 48 hours after the arrest for traffic infractions, or more than 72 hours after the arrest for any other ordinance violations, and if such defendant is not given that opportunity, then the defendant is released from custody;
- defendants in municipal custody are not held more than 24 hours without a warrant for arrest;
- no defendant is detained in order to coerce payment of fines and court costs;
- the municipal court has established procedures whereby an indigent defendant may present evidence of such defendant’s financial condition, and the municipal court takes such evidence into account in determining fines and court costs, and in establishing payment requirements;
- the municipal court only assesses fines and court costs as authorized by law;
- no additional complaint is issued for a failure to appear for a traffic violation;
- proceedings of the municipal court are conducted in a courtroom that is open to the public and large enough to reasonably accommodate the public, the parties and attorneys;
- the municipal court utilizes alternative payment plans and community service alternatives; and
- the municipal court has adopted an electronic payment system or a payment-by-mail system for the payment of traffic violations.
If a municipal government failed to provide the above money to the state and/or the municipal court failed to meet the standards, all municipal court functions would be suspended (cases would be shifted to the District Court) and certain state sales tax funds would be withheld.
SB 403 is set for a hearing on March 2 before the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
A plan (discussed here) inserted at the last minute without a hearing into another bill by the Kansas Senate to expand the list of impeachable offenses for certain judges was pulled out of the bill by the full Kansas Senate. News reports indicate the plan will now be given a full committee hearing next week.
UPDATE 2/24/16: The hearing is now set for March 3 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
SB 439 would expand the list of impeachable offenses for a member of the Kansas Supreme Court or District Courts (if chosen via merit/commission selection); judges of the Court of Appeals and District Court judges elected in nonpartisan elections would be unaffected.
Currently the state constitution lists only “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” as the basis for impeachment. SB 439 would add by statute a list of new items including “attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government” and “attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power.”
Senators favoring the bill appear to be angry over recent state supreme court decisions finding the state legislature’s K-12 funding system unconstitutional and that such decisions may be “judicial misconduct.”
Sen. Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican, said the issue of addressing judicial misconduct has “just fallen by the wayside for generations.” It’s time that we, as an elective body, assert ourselves in certain circumstances,” he said.