TOPEKA — “Without batting an eye, I can tell you our state of Kansas public servants deserve better. Much better,” Ellis County Clerk of the District Court Amanda Truan told state legislators Monday.
Employees working full time at Hobby Lobby have a starting pay of $15.35, but the trial court clerk II position in the state starts at $11.52 an hour, she said.
Truan and other judicial branch members pointed out to a Senate Ways and Means subcommittee:
• One-fourth of Kansas judicial branch salaries have starting salaries below the federal poverty level for a family of four;
• About one-third of judicial branch workers have an additional job;
• Every job classification is paid below market level, and some positions are over 22 percent below market, a study found.
“We are in trouble,” said Chief Judge Wendel Wurst, of the 25th Judicial District in southwest Kansas.
Wurst said a trial clerk is taking home $2,800 less now than in 2010 because of various factors affecting take-home pay. A plan nearly a decade ago to raise salaries over three years stopped after the first year. A 2 percent pay hike in fiscal year 2015 was eroded by pension and other benefit costs, the legislators were told.
In Finney County, Wurst said, there are 14 positions but three are vacant because people have left for higher-paying jobs. Five of the remaining 11 employees have worked in second jobs, and three are currently working 10 to 30 hours a week in the second job. Some employees are single mothers, he said.
Kansas district judge pay is 50th in the nation before adjusting the cost of living, said Kansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Marla Luckert.
Subcommittees for Ways and Means are taking testimony on department budgets. For the fiscal year starting July 1, the judicial branch is seeking an increase from the state general fund for higher pay, and to fill vacant positions, to create new judge and staff positions, and to construct two new judicial suites at the Court of Appeals.
The Governor concurs with the branch’s “enhancement” requests for each of the next two fiscal years, according to information provided to the legislators.
Also at the hearing, legislators learned that an unforeseen consequence of the increased use of body cameras worn by officers is the additional time needed for investigators to review three to four hours of video, compared to reading a three- or four-page report. The Board of Indigents’ Defense Services requested more money to fund investigative staff positions and over $1 million from the state general fund in each of the next two years for proceedings in capital punishment cases.
The Governor did not recommend adopting those requests.
When the Legislature develops the omnibus bill in the spring, the Board of Indigents’ Defense Services wants to visit again with lawmakers about the budget.