TOPEKA — Lawmakers quickly sent legislation to the full House and Senate on Thursday to ensure funding continues to the courts.
The House Appropriations Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bills to remove a portion of a law the Kansas Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in December.
The high court ruled the Legislature usurped the Supreme Court’s authority when it passed House Bill 2338 in 2014.
District Judge Larry Solomon sued in February 2015 to stop the law. Under the law, chief judges should be picked by the direct election of judges working in each district. Previously, the judges were picked by the Supreme Court. According to Solomon, who sits in the 30th Judicial District, the 2014 law violated the Kansas Constitution.
The Supreme Court sided with Solomon, who also had prevailed in the lower courts.
Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year — House Bill 2005 — that strikes court funding if provisions of the 2014 law are struck down, which the Supreme Court did. But an injunction keeping the funding in place until mid-March remains in place, giving lawmakers time to fix the law.
Judge Daniel Creitz of the 31st Judicial District told the House Appropriations Committee the courts would experience shutdowns if funding is cut off. While judges are constitutionally required to be paid and would continue to work, no staff would be working — so no trials or anything involving a courtroom could take place.
“If we fix everything, the appropriations that you passed last year will keep the courts of Kansas open for FY 16 and FY 17. Any cuts will lead to the closure of all the courts of Kansas,” Creitz said.
Creitz later clarified closures likely would involve keeping courts closed for a number of days, depending upon the size of the budget cut.
The Solomon case has raised tensions between the judicial and legislative branches. Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, alluded to an expected high court ruling on school funding.
The court could order the Legislature to appropriate additional funding for schools. Suellentrop invoked the separation of powers doctrine that holds branches of government have separate and distinct powers.
“Can we rely on that same thought and theory to not have interference from the courts in our application of the budget process that we do?” Suellentrop asked.
Creitz responded that the Solomon decision affirmed the separation of powers.