With so much going on it is important to review the bills being pushed through the legislative process. This week we focus on the Judicial Branch. Please find updates to judicial branch budget items and proposals focused on appellate judge below.
The Judicial Branch was able to maneuver its most pressing budgetary matter into the recession bill and close its budget shortfall for this fiscal year. SB 4 should allow the courts to avoid furloughs because it gives the chief justice the authority to transfer funds from the e-filing fund to the docket fee fund (operations). This transfer required legislative approval which was achieved last week and the governor is anticipated to sign it.
SB 4 will make the following adjustments to the Judicial Branch budget ending in June.
- Delete $850,402, including $673,754 from the State General Fund, to reduce the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System employer contribution rate (excluding KPERS Death and Disability) from 11.27 percent to 8.65 percent in FY 2015 = (673,754) (176,648) (850,402)
- Delete $2.3 million, all from the electronic filing fund, for e-courts due to the implementation timeframe for the e-courts initiative in FY 2015 = (2,253,432) (2,253,432)
- Delete $705,448, all from the Non-Judicial Salary Adjustment Fund, for reduced revenue from DUI reinstatement fees in FY 2015 = (705,448) (705,448)
- Delete $4.6 million, all from the Docket Fee Fund, due to lower than anticipated court fees from Motions for Summary Judgment and traffic penalties in FY 2015 = (4,629,054) (4,629,054)
- Add language allowing the chief justice to transfer monies from the Electronic Filing Management Fund to the Docket Fee Fund in FY 2015 = 2,253.432
A number of other bills affecting the judicial branch budget remain in play. They include:
SB 15 is a new docket fee on all dispositive motions introduced by Sen. Jeff King. SB 15 is designed to capture fees for all motions used to end a case, motions to dismiss, motions on the pleadings. The bill would define dispositive motion to mean a motion to dismiss, a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a motion for summary judgment or partial summary judgment or a motion for judgment as a matter of law. The state of Kansas and all municipalities would be exempt from paying this fee, and any person who is unable to pay the fee would be permitted to file a poverty affidavit in lieu of the fee. The fee would not apply to cases filed under the Kansas Code of Civil Procedure for Limited Actions. SB 15 would take effect upon publication in the Kansas Register.
The Office of Judicial Administration estimates that SB 15 would increase revenues to the Judicial Branch by approximately $574,000. The office bases its estimate on the dismissal motion activity of Sedgwick County, which, if applied statewide, would impose the $195 dispositive motion fee on 2,943 filings ($195 x 2,943 = $573,885).
SB 51 is an extension of the judicial branch surcharge fee. This is an annual issue since the statute contains a sunset clause. Without SB 51 the surcharge fee would automatically end and the court would lose funds to operate the judicial branch. Expenditures from the Judicial Branch surcharge are currently reflected in The FY 2016 Governor's Budget Report with estimated revenues to the Judicial Branch Docket Fee Fund of $9.5 million in both FY 2016 and FY 2017. Consequently, the Office of Judicial Administration indicates that its budget would be reduced by $9.5 million each fiscal year, if SB 51 is not enacted. The KBA supports this bill.
The Judicial Branch has also seen a number of measures aimed at altering the merit selection process for the Kansas Supreme Court, altering the percentage needed to be retained and a change to the retirement age.
Changes to merit selection include a shift to partisan elections, a change to the federal model and a remake of the nominating commission. These resolutions are as follows:
- HCR 5004 (Kahrs), A PROPOSITION for the direct partisan election of supreme court justices and court of appeal judges, abolish the supreme court nominating commission
- HCR, Coulture-Lovelady, Constitutional amendment revising article 3, relating to the judiciary; allowing the governor to appoint supreme court justices and court of appeals judges, subject to senate confirmation; abolishing the supreme court nominating commission
- HCR 5006 (Rubin), Constitutional amendment revising article 3, relating to the judiciary; allowing the governor to appoint supreme court justices and court of appeals judges, subject to senate confirmation; lifetime appointment, subject to removal for cause; retaining the supreme court nominating commission, membership amended
The KBA presented testimony on January 27 and again on February 11. The KBA has opposed all changes in any form. However, Rep. Blaine finch has drafted a resolution and asked for our consideration.
The resolution calls for the Supreme Court Nominating Commission to be recomposed to include four lawyer elected members, one from each congressional district and five gubernatorial appointments with at least one appointment being a lawyer. The commission will operate as it always has by sending three names to the governor who selects one. The main difference here is that a name can only be submitted on a supermajority vote (6 of 9). The resolution also elevates the court of appeals to a constitutional office and as well as setting the retirement age of 75 into the constitution.
There are two other concurrent resolutions dealing with retention margins. Sen. Pyle introduced HCR 5009 that requires more than two-thirds retention vote to maintain seat.
Rep. Becky Hutchins (R-Holton) introduced her version which requires 70 percent to maintain seat on bench. No hearings have been set for these proposals.
There are also efforts to in include judicial officers to the recall statute.
- HCR, 5003, A PROPOSITION to amend section 3 of article 4 of the constitution of the state of Kansas, relating to the judiciary and recall elections
Finally, Rep. Macheers introduced a bill to lower the mandatory retirement age from 75 years to 70 years for Kansas District Court judges and 75 years to 65 years for appellate judges.
For more information on these bills please visit http://www.ksbar.org/?bill_tracking.