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Special Session Set for September 3

Posted By Joseph N. Molina III, Tuesday, August 06, 2013

For the 22nd time in Kansas history the Kansas Legislature will reconvene in Topeka for a Special Session. This is the fourth time that the Legislature returned for a special session since agreeing to meet yearly in 1967.

 

The primary reason for this unique experience is to debate changes to Kansas’ "Hard 50” sentencing statute. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "any element that increases the mandatory minimum is an ‘element’ that must be submitted to the jury.” See full text of Alleyne v. U.S., 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013). In Kansas the trial judge decides whether the "Hard 50” sentence is appropriate; however, to comply with this new ruling, the Kansas Legislature will have to adopt a rule change allowing the jury to be the fact finders in "Hard 50” circumstances. See https://governor.ks.gov/media-room/media-releases/2013/07/26/governor-brownback-calls-special-legislative-session.

 

While this appears to be a simple and quick rule change, a number of other issues have been thrown into the mix that may require the Legislature’s attention. For instance, Kansans for Life would like the Legislature to take up a fetal heartbeat law that failed to pass during the regular session. See http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2013/jul/29/kansas-abortion-group-sees-opportunity-special-ses/. This may be a hard sell since leadership has already taken that issue off the table. See http://cjonline.com/news/state/2013-07-29/special-session-abortion-table-court-seat-play. However, Kansans for Life is a very influential group that may be able to change enough minds and force the leadership’s hand.

Quick Take:

President Barack Obama has nominated Kansas Supreme Court Justice Nancy L. Moritz for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Justice Moritz has served as a justice of the Kansas Supreme Court since 2011. During her career, she has handled a broad array of legal matters before both state and federal courts as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Kansas, an appellate coordinator for the District, and as a member of the Kansas Court of Appeals. Justice Moritz was born in Beloit and was raised in the small community of Tipton. She received her bachelor’s degree from Washburn University in Topeka in 1982 and her juris doctorate from the Washburn University School of Law in 1985.

The most public issue to date is the possible truncated confirmation of the 14th Court of Appeals judge. The newly enacted law requires the governor to name a candidate for the vacant 14th position by Thursday, August 29. To date, the governor has declined to share the names of any applicants and the ABA recently issued a statement disputing Gov. Brownback’s take on appellate selection. See http://cjonline.com/news/2013-07-30/aba-disputes-brownbacks-take-judicial-selection.

 

Should the governor utilize the statutorily allotted time to select a candidate, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have less than six days to convene a committee hearing, request public input, collect relevant information on the candidate and hold a committee hearing before the start of the Special Session on Tuesday, September 3. This would appear to be a very quick turnaround for a significant position within the third branch of government. However, Sen. Jeff King, Senate vice president and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has stated that he intends on completing a thorough review of the candidate. How quickly this review is accomplished is the main question.

 

Needless to say several news articles and editorials find the summer confirmation of a Court of Appeal’s judge using this new process curious.

Even with the public paying special attention, the outcome seems to be inevitable and the governor’s selection should earn quick confirmation. However, the new selection process once deemed to be more open and representative appears less so.

Tags:  Alleyne  Brownback  Hard 50  Moritz  Special Session 

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