In the second week of the legislative session things appear to be settling down. This week was anchored by the State of the Judiciary Address given by Chief Justice Lawton Nuss. The crux of the 40-minute speech was the issue of salaries for judicial branch employees and judges. Chief Justice Nuss pointed out that Kansas ranks 50th in employee pay even after last session’s 2.5 percent increase. The Judicial Branch experiences employee turnover at five times the national average. Every staff position within the judicial branch has a starting wage below market value. Nuss pointed out that when Wal-Mart phases in their new starting wage of $11 per hour, it will be nearly the same as a starting wage for certain court positions. The court is losing employees to Wal-Mart, Target etc., due to salaries. You can read about the salary issue here: http://bit.ly/2FVoLaR
You can read the entire speech here: http://bit.ly/2DqzrAE
In the Senate Judiciary Committee, hearings were held on SB 199 dealing with appeal bonds. This bill creates a small business category for appeal bonds by defining a small business as having 50 or fewer employees and no more than $50 million in annual revenue. The bill also retroactively applies to any appeal that has not been resolved filed prior to the effective date of the bill. KTLA opposed the bill while the KS Association of Defense Counsel supported it. This bill was originally introduced by the Kansas Chamber.
The House Judiciary Committee also held hearings this week with SB 181 being heard on Thursday. SB 181 would authorize a district court judge to enter into amnesty programs for traffic fines. These fines are a dedicated revenue stream for the judicial branch, and the amnesty program would cost the court some money. The bill was supported by Judge Phil Journey and Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau. Both believe that this type of penalty to be a tax on the poor.
Two groups opposed the bill: Kansas District Judges Association and the Kansas Association of District Court Clerks & Administrators. Both groups stated this would create extra work for clerks which would require at least four full-time employees. For its part, OJA created an ad hoc committee to study municipal court fines and fees and draft a report with recommendations. This committee is chaired by Municipal Court Judge (City of Salina) Brenda Stoss. The committee did not make any recommendations.
Both judiciary committees have full schedules this week as a host of family law bills, criminal bills and administrative measures are discussed and/or set for hearing. Look for the House Judiciary Committee to discuss civil asset forfeiture late next week while the Senate Judiciary Committee spends Monday discussing Human Trafficking.