The Garden City Telegram
5/14/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Bad laws

Misguided legislation could be more costly for the state.

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. ...

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 Gov. Sam Brownback. 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. ...

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.

-- The Hays Daily News