TOPEKA — The House budget committee demonstrated eagerness Tuesday to resolve a conflict with the Kansas Supreme Court by introducing a bill to eliminate a judicial budget provision ruled unconstitutional by the state’s highest court.
The controversy resulted from the 2014 Legislature’s adoption of a bill stripping the Supreme Court of authority to select district court chief judges and approval of a 2015 law declaring state spending on the judicial branch would be stricken if the court system found the judge selection reform to be constitutionally flawed.
In December, the Supreme Court ruled the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback neglected the separation of powers doctrine and overstepped authority of the judicial branch to administrator the courts.
Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said House Bill 2449 would delete references in state law to linkage of budget allocations with outcome of the chief judge dispute. A similar measure is expected to be introduced in the Senate.
“It removes the non-severability clause that was in last year’s bill,” Ryckman said. “It provides certainty to the courts that their appropriated funds will be appropriated.”
The GOP leadership in the House and Senate appear willing to wave the white flag on the chief judge issue so the threat of a short-term funding impasse can be put to rest, said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
“We need to solve the immediate crisis regarding the funding of the courts,” Carmichael said. “However, I don’t have any illusions but what the state’s judiciary budget is in peril just like the education budget, just like the highway budget and every other budget in state government.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Oletha Faust-Gaudeau, D-Wichita, introduced Senate Bill 315 to place into Kansas law, rather than mere state agency regulation, a limit on the number of children Kansas would allow to reside in a foster care home. State agencies have routinely approved exceptions to the regulations on the size of foster care families.
Under the measure, no state license or temporary permit would be granted to operate a home with more than four children in foster care or for no more than a total of six children, including the applicant’s biological or adopted children under 16 years of age. The restrictions could be temporarily waived to place a child in emergency foster care for no more than 30 days.
“We need to be careful that we as adults are providing enough nurturing, attention and care,” she said. “My goal is what’s in the best interests of the child.”
Her proposal follows the arrests in November of Topeka City Councilman Jonathan Schumm and his wife, Allison, on charges of aggravated battery and child abuse. They had 16 children living in their home, including four biological children, 10 who had been adopted and two in foster care.
Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, said he was preparing an amendment to the Kansas Constitution to prohibit transfer of money from the Kansas Department of Transportation to the state’s general treasury.
Republican and Democratic governors in Kansas have unwisely drawn hundreds of millions of dollars from the separate KDOT revenue stream in challenging budget times, he said.
“It’s the only way to protect KDOT funding,” LaTurner said. “The only way to do it is amending the constitution. It also forces the Legislature to be mindful of what money they dedicate to KDOT.”
The House and Senate would need to pass the constitutional amendment by two-thirds majorities and Kansas voters would have to affirm the change by a simple majority.
Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, introduced a bill that would modify state law on carrying of concealed weapons in public buildings statewide and resolve a problem in his district at the Saline County Courthouse.
He said House Bill 2440 amends Kansas statute to resolve an issue arising from concerns from operators of public buildings about securing with metal detectors and security personnel the entire structure, rather than floors or wings of those buildings.
Claeys said the Saline County Commission wants to secure the third floor where courtrooms are located and only allow conceal and carry of firearms on the first and second floors. Division of public buildings in regard to carrying of concealed guns is prohibited based on a nonbinding legal opinion issued by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Claeys said.
“The current way the law is written, it’s all or nothing. You either secure the entirety of the building or you allow conceal carry in the entirety of that building,” Claeys said.