The Kansas Judicial Branch, already in the conservatives’ gunsights for the Supreme Court demanding more state money for public K-12 schools, has taken its first drubbing from the Legislature this session by seeing the House Appropriations Committee scuttle its request for a budget increase next year.
The court’s request for approximately $20 million in additional State General Fund appropriations — mostly for salary increases for judges and support staff who haven’t seen significant raises for years — was rejected by the panel.
Part of the reason might be the $7.5 million sought for 21 percent raises for judges was No. 1 on the list of requests — though the courts also asked (No. 2 request) for $10.3 million for raises for court employees, those clerks and other assistants who don’t wear black robes but keep the judicial system running.
Kansas district court judges are the lowest paid in the nation, below surrounding states, both judges and other court employees. Makes you wonder who would want to be a district court judge, or a support staffer and at some point, whether lack of those workers will delay justice in Kansas. That’s issuing anti-stalking orders or settling car wreck damages or reassessing support payments or holding hearings for those charged with serious crimes.
And there might be another whack coming, at the Kansas Supreme Court after new Gov. Jeff Colyer in his State of the State address proclaimed Kansas to be an anti-abortion state from its infancy and demanding a return to that abortion provision in the state’s 150-year-old original constitution.
Abortion issues are strong vote-getters among conservative Kansas Republican primary election voters who Colyer is going to need to win his party’s gubernatorial nomination in August. But his emotion in presenting that issue to lawmakers at a joint session of the Legislature last week was stirring.
The high court has been sitting on the most recent abortion case for nearly a year after a hearing last March.
The bill that sparked the lawsuit was passed by the Legislature in 2015 and prohibited a specific procedure — dilation and evacuation — which is used for approximately 95 percent of second-trimester abortions in Kansas.
A Shawnee County District Court judge refused to order enforcement of the law, and the Kansas Court of Appeals in January 2016 split evenly in a hearing on the lower court’s order.
That forwarded the issue to the Supreme Court, which still has the case under advisement.
And just what all that — the schools case, the unrelated abortion case and the (possibly) unrelated budget freeze — means for Kansas is uncertain.
But, it appears the abortion issue — if the U.S. Supreme Court membership changes and another one or two President Donald Trump-appointed justices are approved for the court, there’s a chance the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision might be reviewed. That decision, recall, declared unconstitutional laws which criminalize or restrict access to abortion beyond the reasonable regulation of such procedures.
Return to no-abortions in Kansas? Anti-abortion activists like the Colyer talk, the direction he wants to head, and want the Kansas Supreme Court to hold constitutional that three-year-old abortion procedure restriction that has been in abeyance since 2015.
It becomes just another issue from the past that has reached into Kansas politics, and whatever side you’re on for the issue, it seems more than a little punitive to use it to deny adequate funding for the state’s judiciary,
What’s next? Probably watching the court and the Legislature to see whether an abortion decision comes before adjournment of the Legislature — and what happens to the budget then.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.