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10 Days Till Turnaround

Posted By Joseph N. Molina III, Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Kansas Legislature will reach its halfway point of the 2015 session on Saturday, February 28 with the passage of the House of Origin deadline, marking the date in which all non-exempt legislation must advance out of its house of introduction, or is considered dead for the remainder of the session. However, several exempt committees continue to work through legislative initials. These exempt committees include House Appropriations, Senate Ways and Means, House and Senate Federal and State Affairs, and House Taxation. The House and Senate Judiciary committees are not exempt committees and all legislation must be passed out prior to the deadline to be considered.


This deadline has created a sense of urgency throughout the Kansas Legislature as they continue to take action on bills passed out of various committees this week. Non-exempt committees that meet in the afternoon have until February 26 to get bills out, while morning committees will have until February 27, after which both chambers will be on the floor debating bills.


Thus far the session and most of the state has been focused on the budget. Coming into the year Kansas was projected to run a $278 million deficit and the governor proposed cuts to cover the majority of the red ink. However, January revenue numbers were significantly less than anticipated causing for new allotments. These allotments focused on K-12 and higher education, cutting both a combined $44.5 million. Should revenue continue to fall more, allotments will need to be made and significant push back will undoubtedly increase.

Judicial budget

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 will 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 that 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.
  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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 Senate Judiciary Committee did amend SB 51 by striking the sunset provision all together. This means that to end the surcharge new legislation would need to be introduced. The KBA supported the unamended version of SB 51.


Interestingly, yesterday both chambers decided to strip the judicial branch budget from the general state budget and run it separately. By singling out the judicial branch budget the Kansas House has less opportunity to increase state general funds because it implemented pay-go rules requiring any revenue increases to be offset by cuts. This is almost impossible in a single appropriation.


The judicial branch introduced a budget asking for $119.5 million in SGF but the bill only contains $96.7 million.

Merit selection

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:

The KBA has opposed all changes in any form. Yesterday the House Judicial Committee voted to recommend both HCR 5004 (elections/Rep. Kahrs) and HCR 5005 (federal model/Rep. Lovelady). Both resolutions head to the House floor for a vote.

Retention elections

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 that requires 70 percent to maintain seat on bench for the Kansas Court of Appeals. This is troublesome because it requires only a simple majority to pass. No hearings have been set for these proposals.

There are also efforts to include judicial officers to the recall statute.

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.

Miscellaneous judicial branch bills

In the last week of bill introductions a rash of bills aimed at the judicial branch sprung up. They include changes to how nominating commissioners are elected, repealing the one judge per county requirement, prohibiting advertising by out of state lawyers, and allowing a representative from KDJA on the KPERS board of trustees. The KBA will continue to monitor these bills and provide reports when appropriate.


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