Column: Do you like where this road could lead?

by Lawton R. Nuss

Last year several legislators crafted a proposal for changing the constitutional process chosen by the people of Kansas for selecting Supreme Court justices.  These legislators sought endorsements by the Kansas Bar Association and the Kansas District Judges Association (KDJA).

According to several sources, the endorsements would induce the Legislature to give judicial branch employees their first pay raise in more than 4 years.  I told our 1,500 employees that while the justices supported the pay raises, we opposed the trade.  Later one of the crafting legislators publicly denied any linkage between the overdue pay raises and selection of justices and demanded my apology.

Recently one of these legislators advanced a new proposal.  Linking money to other court issues can no longer be denied.  Rather, it is glaring.

Instead of pay raises, this time legislative money is being offered to keep all Kansas courts open after July 1 – in direct exchange for some important restructuring of the judicial branch.  More specifically, the money would be given if the KDJA now endorsed the “package deal.”  The package includes changing the statewide unified court system in two fundamental ways.

First, it allows the chief judge in each of Kansas’ 31 judicial districts to submit and control his or her own budget.  Second, it allows the judges in each judicial district to choose their own chief judge.  The Supreme Court has exclusively exercised the authority for both actions since at least the late 1970’s after a constitutional amendment. All 31 chief judges – the ones most directly affected by the decentralizing budget provision – oppose it.  Additionally, many prefer the Supreme Court’s traditional chief judge selection process, where for almost 40 years the Court has sought input from all judges and employees working closely with them before making the appointment.  Chief judges and justices alike ask, “What needs fixing?”

One packaging legislator informed the KDJA that without a positive statement about the entire package, it would fail.  The money for keeping the courts open would then be lost.  And no other legislative revenue proposal for keeping courts open was planned.  In other words, no endorsement means closed courts.  So while disagreeing with a significant part of the package, the executive committee concluded, “The KDJA can accept [it], because the courts of Kansas will be allowed to remain open for business.”  The Kansas Senate approved it a few hours later.

The Supreme Court strongly opposes the package – for reasons that should be clear.  Most objectionable is the diffusion of the unified court system’s centralized authority in exchange for money to keep Kansas courts open.

Some argue this legislative action violates the people’s constitution.  The 1968 Legislature’s “Citizens’ Committee” recommended all the various courts be unified, modernized and administered by one central authority.  This recommendation was followed by a 1972 statewide election in which Kansans voted to add this language to their constitution:  “The supreme court shall have general administrative authority over all courts in this state.”  Acknowledging this mandate for unification and modernization, a later committee chaired by Edward Arn – former Attorney General, Supreme Court justice, and two-term Republican Governor – specifically recommended one budget for the entire judicial branch.

I express no opinion on the constitutionality of the package.  Because if it is challenged in a lawsuit, the Supreme Court may need to answer that question.

But as the package moves through the House of Representatives, all Kansans should ask themselves at least two questions:    First, is this package true to the will of the people when they voted to change their constitution and place all administrative authority under the Supreme Court and to eventually unify all Kansas courts??

Second, if Kansans start down the road where judges feel compelled to help bargain away the Court’s authority, where does that road end?  Will otherwise fair and impartial judges be asked to decide court cases the way some legislators want them to be decided – in exchange for money to keep the courts open for the people of Kansas they all are supposed to be serving?

Lawton R. Nuss is a Salina native and a fourth-generation Kansan.  He has served on the Kansas Supreme Court since 2002 and as chief justice since 2010.

Celebrate St. Pat’s Day with a little Irish literature

Kansas City, Kan., author Helen Walsh Folsom has written a new novel with an Irish setting, just about ready to send off to her publisher. (File photo)

Window on the West

by Mary Rupert

St. Patrick’s Day can hardly pass without a mention of one of the names most locally associated with the holiday – Helen Folsom.

Folsom, age 80, has written a book on St. Patrick, called “St. Patrick’s Secrets.”

Her three books have an Irish theme, and she has another one almost ready to send off to the publisher, reported her daughter, Bettse Folsom.

The new book is another fictional story set in Ireland.

Folsom’s first book, in 2002, was the nonfiction, “St. Patrick’s Secrets.” That was followed by “Ah, Those Irish Colleens!” a historical book, in 2003.

After a tornado hit her Kansas City, Kan., home in 2003, Helen’s fiction writing was put on hold for a while.

In November 2012, Folsom published a novel, “Fianna, The Dark Web of the Brotherhood,” available from Amazon.com. This novel has lots of Irish romance and adventure, set in 1892 during the Irish rebellion, and those who read it can learn a little about history, too.

“Fianna” is doing great overseas, especially in its Kindle sales, Folsom said.

To find Helen’s books online on the Amazon website, visit: “St. Patrick’s Secrets” “Ah, Those Irish Colleens,” and “Fianna.”

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.

Legislative update from Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

by Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Fifth Dist.

Senate passes bill affecting party switches   

The Kansas Senate approved a bill Wednesday March 12 that would prohibit voters from changing parties on or after the candidate filing deadline, which this year is June 1.

That prohibition would be in effect until the results of a primary election were certified.

It wouldn’t apply to new voter registrations, those who reregister after a move, or those choosing a party when previously unaffiliated.

Current law allows voters to change parties up to 20 days prior to the August primary.

The House approved the bill, HB 2210, last year. Senate approval sends the bill to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

Political parties in Kansas worried for many years that a lot of voters of an opposite party have switched their registration prior to an August primary election in an effort to influence the outcome.

To counter the tactic, the Kansas House approved a bill last year prohibiting voters from changing parties on or after the candidate filing deadline, which is June 1 of this year.

Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican, said he has three basic reasons for authoring the bill.

“The primary reason is to protect all political parties from undue influence from outside their party,” he stated in prepared remarks for the Senate committee. “It appears that the motivation for people who temporarily change party registration is to affect the outcome of the opposition party in order that the candidate selected has less chance to win in the general election. In other words, they want the worst candidate of the other party to win the primary.”

He added that the workload of election offices would be reduced during the busiest time of the election cycle since primary election ballots are the most complex that an election office must deal with.

Esau said a change in the law would also allow more efficient election analysis.

Under the current system, he said it was to find out which party ballot someone voted in the primary election.

“The election office records every person that votes in a primary, but that information is not recorded until the weeks after the primary happens and usually as part of the certification procedure,” he said. “In the meantime, people can currently change their party registration, thus making it look as if they voted a different ballot than they actually voted.”

Bill would add cellphones to No-Call list  

In 2002, the Legislature enacted the Kansas No-Call Act but it only pertained to land-line phones and not cellphones.

Senate Bill 308, however, would add cellphones to the act and allow the Office of the Attorney General to enforce the Kansas law against telemarketers who call a consumer’s listed cellphone number in violation of the law.

The Senate approved the bill on Feb. 20 on a 38-0 vote.

Constitutional measure would allow raffles   

The Kansas Senate has approved a constitutional amendment allowing many churches and charities to legally hold raffles.

While these groups routinely do so under current law, the practice is actually illegal.

The constitutional measure would simply install a legal process and allow the legislature to authorize licensing, conduct and regulation of any charitable raffles by a nonprofit, religious, charitable, fraternal, education and veteran’s organizations.

The constitutional amendment would include a number of limitations that would assist in any loopholes of organizations not wanting to raise money for a charitable cause.

The restrictions for organizations include: A ban on electronic gaming or vending machines to sell raffle tickets; hiring a professional raffle or other lottery vender to manage the raffle; and, licensing and regulation by the Office of Charitable Gaming within the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Raffles would be defined as a game of chance in which each participant buys a ticket from a nonprofit organization, and each ticket would provide an equal chance to win a prize.

Currently, the Constitution requires all forms of gambling to be regulated by the Kansas Lottery.  Sub for SCR 1618 passed with a vote of 35-0.

Since the measure is a constitutional amendment, and passed the Senate by the required two-thirds majority, it will now head to the House where it will need the same majority.

If successful, the constitutional amendment would be put on the November election ballot.

Lawmakers respond to education ruling  

In the week since the release of the Gannon decision, the House, Senate, and governor have continued to meet and discuss the best way to fulfill both the letter and the spirit of the ruling.

The decision is truly an opportunity to address school finance and continue to provide the best possible educational opportunities for Kansas children.

In the House, the Appropriations Committee will take up the issue this week, and have a plan to address the equity portion of the ruling within the last two weeks before first adjournment on April 5.

After that, the legislature has more time to focus on student outcomes, one of the most important pieces of the ruling. Education is a top priority for House Republicans.

School funding dissected    

In the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on public school funding, the court specified that all funding sources be considered when looking at whether schools were being funded adequately.

Some education advocates only point to one source — basic state aid per pupil or BSAPP.

Other major funding sources: The cost of teacher’s retirement plan known as KPERS, capital outlay spending, local option budget (local property taxes), and even federal funding. To demonstrate the significance of this ruling, see the graph below.