The KBA Advocate is the weekly KBA legislative newsletter that contains up-to-date information on legislation that impacts your practice. It is only published when the legislature is in session and is sent to all KBA members electronically via the KBA Weekly.
The 2020 Session is approaching quickly. Summer break has ended, and Kansas lawmakers are attending Interim Committees. These committees will focus on a variety of issues such as criminal justice reform, retail electrical rates, and KanCare Oversight. However, bigger issues are on the horizon.
The legislature will look at several proposals in 2020 that may end up on the election ballot.
Merit Selection will be debated in 2020 ,with its opponents hoping to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. There is currently a proposal in the Kansas Senate, SCR 1610, that would change Article 3 from a merit selection process to a governor appoint/senate confirm model. This is the process used for the Kansas Court of Appeals—the same process used this past session by Gov. Kelly that has renewed the debate on judicial selection. While SCR 1610 is on the table, it may not end up being the proposal championed by opponents of merit selection. The Kansas Legislature will hold interim committee meetings this fall to get the ball rolling. The KBA has a long-standing policy supporting merit selection for Kansas Appellate Courts.
We may also see a debate on whether the legislature may impose limits on the amount of money a person can receive for non-economic injuries. This debate is also spurred by a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in the past year. The ruling, Hilburn v. Enerpipe Ltd,dealt with a car accident. The Court found that the state’s non-economic damages cap of $325,000 violated the plaintiff’s right to have a jury determine compensation owed the injured. See; https://www.kansascity.com/news/state/kansas/article231561483.html
Supporters of a statutory cap would also like to see the constitution changed to allow the legislature to limit the amounts recovered for non-economic injury.
These are very large issues to tackle in an election year. They are wide ranging, with a multitude of interested parties—sometimes overlapping interest groups—that will require significant study over a relatively short period of time. How many amendments make it to the ballot remains to be seen, but it it sets the stage for an interesting 90 days in 2020.
On June 14th the Kansas Supreme Court released two monumental rulings. The first was Gannon v. State and the second was Hilburn v. Enerpipe LTD.
We are all familiar that the Gannon decision refers to the school finance lawsuit that stretches into a decade of legal arguments. This past session, the Kansas Legislature added nearly $360 million to K-12 school funding over the next four years. The legislature was hopeful that the Supremes would find this amount constitutional and end the lawsuit; the legislature got half of its wish. The Court found that SB 16’s financial adjustments to the safe harbor plan brings the State into substantial compliance with previous Gannon rulings. However, the court retains jurisdiction to ensure that the four-year plan is implemented. The court justified retaining jurisdiction by stating:
"[T]he judiciary clearly has the power to review a law and potentially declare it unconstitutional. But this power is not limited solely to review. It also includes the inherent power to enforce our holdings. [Citations omitted.] Without the inherent power to impose remedies and otherwise enforce our holdings, our power to review would be virtually meaningless. See Kjellander v. Kjellander, 90 Kan. 112, 114, 132 P. 1170 (1913) ('The appellate jurisdiction conferred carries with it, by implication, the power to protect that jurisdiction and to make the decisions of the court thereunder effective.')." Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 737-38.
Once the legislature appropriates the remainder of the funds outlined in SBS 16, the Gannon case should come to a close.
The second big case is Hilbrun v. Enerpipe Ltd. This case was widely discussed within the personal injury arena. This case deals with the constitutionality of the State’s cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury actions. In this case, the plaintiff, Diana Hilburn, was awarded a judgment for an auto accident when her truck was rear-ended by a semi owned by Enerpipe Ltd. The jury awarded Hilburn $301,509.14. The judge reduced the award to coincide with the noneconomic cap of $250,000. Under KSA 60-19a02, the cap will increase to $350,000 by 2022. Hilburn appealed on the ground that KSA 60-19a02 is unconstitutional because it violates her right to a jury trial. A plurality of the Kansas Supreme Court agreed with Hilburn and struck down the cap. The final tally was 3-1-2, with Justice Nuss not participating.
This ruling will have far-reaching implications and sets up a legislative fight in 2020. Several powerful special interest groups will attempt to reinstitute the caps with a statutory proposal. Others may attempt to alter the constitutional by proposing a cap be added to the founding document. Either way, this will draw significant attention and money to the 2020 session.
Besides the noneconomic cap battle, we can expect merit selection to be up for debate. We will also see Medicaid expansion grab headlines. The 2019 legislative session may have just ended, but battle lines are already being drawn for 2020.