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SPOTLIGHT
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Questions swirl around special session

Published on -8/13/2013, 9:53 AM

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We Statehouse habitués are continuing to wonder about this special session to deal with the state's Hard 50 sentencing law, holding it up to the light to see whether it's necessary -- and if there are other little political items off in the weeds that aren't obvious.

And, for those of us who have been around the Statehouse since Roundup was invented, there are some surprising little back-stories that keep popping up.

Like, is this special session really needed?

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court says juries, not just judges, should decide whether aggravating circumstances in a murder trial should earn a murderer a minimum 50-year sentence.

The numbers are fuzzy about just which murderers might get to skate with a 25-year sentence without that jury-decided additional 25 years in prison. Might be a handful, but opinion is divided among those in the criminal prosecution and defense industry about whether this law has to be changed before January.

But, for those of us seeing conspiracies behind every action, it turns out that Attorney General Derek Schmidt took the special session idea to Gov. Sam Brownback in June, maybe a week after the U.S. Supreme Court decision made its way to Kansas. If there was back-door scheming and plotting, it was done a little quicker than we're used to seeing out of the Statehouse.

It's a politically attractive tough-on-crime issue that made it to the Statehouse before most of us started talking about Brownback wanting a quick confirmation of whomever he appoints to the Kansas Court of Appeals without the input of the lawyer-heavy Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Maybe it's a chicken-or-egg situation: Brownback knew he would get the judge choice before the Supreme Court stuck its thumb in the eye of Kansas' Hard 50. Or the governor's office might have seen a handy train going by and decided to jump aboard.

Will that Senate confirmation of the new judge be a battle? Not really. There will be debate and complaint that the Senate might not have time to learn everything knowable about the nominee, but the Senate confirmation shouldn't be a problem as long as Brownback's nominee doesn't have an embarrassing Facebook page or, ahem, Twitter photos.

What might be surprising -- and we're wondering why -- is Brownback says he wants just the Hard-50 issue to be debated, but isn't talking directly to those who have abortion or other issues they want considered. He's leaving that up to legislative leaders -- and the focus here is on the governor essentially making House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, who has been crosswise with the governor a time or two, be the bad guy to those who want other issues considered.

Weaken Merrick's leadership in the House? Maybe, just maybe.

Everyone around here still is trying to do a political dissection of this not-yet-started special session. We might have to just watch it -- and see whether there's a reason the governor wants it to start at 8 a.m. Sept. 3 and end promptly at 5 p.m. Sept. 5. What happens at 5:30 p.m.?

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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