Defending bad laws
The Kansas Attorney General's Office is not immune from the expense-reduction mania sweeping through Topeka. Between 2012 and this year, Derek Schmidt oversaw an almost 8 percent decrease in spending.
The AG did add 10 employees and an extra $1.07 million to the office payroll, but reduced outside contractor services by more than $1.5 million. The strategy makes sense, as employees generally are easier to manage. Gov. Sam Brownback recognized the effectiveness, and his budget proposal for the next two years follows the same path.
But last week, Schmidt appeared to reverse course. He requested an extra $1.2 million to cover the expected costs of defending controversial and potentially unconstitutional laws passed by the Legislature and approved by the governor. The AG finds himself in the difficult position of being required to defend all state laws, even if they appear on their face destined to fail judicial review.
The most expensive piece of legislation Schmidt predicts will be the new anti-abortion law. Conservative forces pushed through one of the nation's most restrictive by declaring life begins at fertilization. Not only did abortion providers lose their ability to take advantage of tax breaks most every other business and individual is able to utilize, they also lost access to public schools to either discuss birth control measures or even to provide such materials. As the governor is not yet able to control all judicial appointments and load the benches with like-minded conservatives, this new law is likely to at least be partially blocked from taking effect.
Schmidt anticipates his office will need to dedicate at least $500,000 for this measure alone.
Other new laws might not be as expensive to defend, but appear to be losing causes. Nonetheless, Schmidt will need to dedicate tax dollars arguing on behalf of them.
The pro-gun legislation pushed through, which declares the federal government has no power to regulate Kansas-made firearms and ammunition, is expected to cost $225,000 in potential legal costs. Another $250,000 will be needed to deal with the mandatory drug-testing of public assistance recipients. Still another $250,000 has been requested to defend a law that prohibits public employee unions from using the automatic payroll deductions that is used for political activities.
Some legislators correctly have noted that lawsuits can be filed in an attempt to prevent any law from taking effect. And we agree with the position that the threat of a legal challenge should never be justification not to pass good legislation.
But run-of-the-mill challenges and frivolous lawsuits are easy enough to handle with the AG's competent staff. When the state's top law enforcement official recognizes legitimate challenges that require ramping back up the same contract attorneys that were eliminated with the recent budget cuts, lawmakers should take notice.
Attorney General Schmidt will never come out and say the overreaching laws will not pass constitutional muster. But his pre-emptive budget increases appear to indicate that's precisely what he believes.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry