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Kan. lawmaker seeks fall hearing on court nominee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee's chairman said Wednesday that he hopes to have a hearing this fall on Gov. Sam Brownback's next nominee to the state Court of Appeals under a new selection system that gives senators the power to block such appointments.

Chairman Jeff King said he's asked legislative leaders to schedule a daylong meeting of his committee in October or November. King, an Independence Republican, said he'd plan to question the GOP governor's nominee to the state's second-highest court and allow members of the public to testify.

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, questioned whether King's proposal, noting that the Senate has another committee for reviewing appointments before lawmakers reconvene their next annual session in January.

Brownback is filling a newly created 14th seat on the Court of Appeals under a law that took effect last month to have the governor to appoint the judges, subject to Senate confirmation. Under the old system -- still in place for the Kansas Supreme Court -- a judicial nominating commission screened applicants and named three finalists, with no role for legislators after the governor's appointment.

"Setting the precedent of an open, thorough process is very important," King said.

Top House and Senate leaders from both parties expect to meet July 29 to decide how many committees will meet this summer and fall and what issues they'll study.

Brownback has until Aug. 29 to name his nominee to the Court of Appeals. Under the new law, the Senate will have 20 days once the Legislature convenes in January to act, or the appointment will be considered confirmed. The law does not mention committee hearings between annual sessions, which are scheduled for 90 days.

If lawmakers were in session, the Senate Judiciary Committee likely would consider a Court of Appeals appointment. But the Senate also has a smaller Confirmation Oversight Committee that decides whether appointees can serve until the full Senate can vote on confirming them.

Hensley said King's proposal is unprecedented, and it might be wiser -- and less expensive -- to have the Confirmation Oversight Committee review the Court of Appeals appointment. King is a member.

"We're in uncharted waters here," Hensley said.