This past week there have been a number of
news articles surrounding the school finance case, Gannon v. State. This case deals with the appropriate amount of
money need to provide a suitable education to Kansas kids. It is anticipated
that the Kansas Supreme Court will be issuing its ruling in the next month or
so. This ruling could require the state of Kansas to appropriate more funds for
K-12 schools. The Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on this case on
October 8, 2013.
Several news articles have followed this case
through the legal process. See Suzanne
Perez Tobias, Kansas school-funding
lawsuit hinging on what’s ‘suitable,’ The Wichita Eagle (Oct. 9, 2013), http://www.kansas.com/2012/06/02/2357937/kansas-school-funding-lawsuit.html; see also John Hanna, Kansas
governor’s legacy clouded by school funding case, The Kansas City Star (Oct.
13, 2013), http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/13/4550916/kansas-governors-legacy-clouded.html; and Dion Lefler, Kansas
Supreme Court hears arguments in school funding case, The Wichita Eagle
(Oct. 9, 2013), http://www.kansas.com/2013/10/08/3046855/2-kansas-justices-promise-on-school.html.
In each case the main thrust is what happens
to the state budget if more money is needed to satisfy the Kansas
Constitutional requirement to deliver a "suitable” education. There appears to
be three distinct options. One is to simply appropriate the money and raise
taxes. This option faces a very tough road during the 2014 session as the
Kansas legislature recently passed a huge tax cut. To raise these funds by
increasing taxes would undo a lot of that hard work. The second option is to
ignore the ruling. This would place the three branches of government in a very
uncomfortable position. The third option would be to change the Kansas
Constitution so the legislature is in direct control of school appropriations. This
idea was discussed earlier in 2013 but the votes were not there to put it on
the statewide ballot.
In the meantime the Kansas
Supreme Court has taken center stage for some very pointed criticism by
Republican legislators. For instance, last week Senate President Susan Wagle
(R-Wichita) stated that if the court rules later this year the same way it did in Montoy v. Kansas it would be "a killer
decision.” "It would kill all potential funding increases for all government
entities,” she said. "If the court does that, it is unaffordable and it is
unrealistic. "So defying them is a possibility.” (Read more at http://www.kansas.com/2013/11/09/3106367/top-kansas-legislators-weigh-in.html#storylink=cpy)
the same article, Rep. Gene Sullentrop (R-Wichita) also said that if the
legislature is ordered to pay $400-$500 million, there would be a serious
dilemma. He also believes that there is a "strong feeling that the court
doesn’t have jurisdiction to
appropriate money, and if there is a strong feeling that they are not looking
at all sides fairly, then we are not apt to go along with them.” (Read more at http://www.kansas.com/2013/11/09/3106367/top-kansas-legislators-weigh-in.html#storylink=cpy)
This sentiment was reiterated by Sen. Wagle when she commented to
the Wichita Business Journal that "If we do get that ruling down, what we’re
going to do is focus on what is the role of the Supreme Court.” "Should they be
interpreting law, should they be appropriating money?” Wagle said. "They aren’t
elected, and we’re real concerned that when they do analyze how much money is
appropriate for K-12 funding, they don’t get to hear all the other testimony
that we hear from the other needs of the state, whether it be transportation,
corrections, higher ed and all the other entities we fund. So it’ll be a very
tough year if we’re at odds.” See
John Stearns, Brownback: K-12 court
ruling will color next legislative session, Wichita Business Journal (Nov.
7, 2013), http://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/blog/2013/11/brownback-k-12-court-ruling-will.html?page=all.
The Kansas Bar Association
would like to thank all those involved in making the 7th Annual Fall
Legislative Conference a success. Attendees were treated to a fabulous CLE on
concealed carry, which was hosted by the KBA Bench & Bar Committee. Our
speakers included KBA Bench and Bar Chair Teresa Watson, Chief Judge Dan
Creitz, Assistant Kansas Attorney General C.W. Klebe, and Leavenworth County
Attorney Todd Thompson.
I would also like to thank our
conference panelists: Rep. Steven Becker (R-Buhler), Rep. Blaine Finch
(R-Ottawa), Rep. Jan Pauls (D-Hutchinson), Rep. John Rubin (R-Shawnee), and
Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita). I greatly appreciate them taking time out to
discuss the 2014 legislative session with us.
Finally, the Fall Legislative Conference
would not be possible without our wonderful and generous sponsors. They
- Alderson, Alderson, Weiler, Conklin,
Burghart & Crow LLC
- John Peterson & Bill
- Kansas Bankers Association
- Polsinelli PC
- Whitney B. Damron P.A.
- R.E. "Tuck" Duncan/Kansas
Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association
At this point it is important to
remember that two bills were introduced that would have a serious effect on the
operation, composition, and jurisdiction of the Kansas Supreme Court during the
waning days of the 2013 legislative session. Those bills:
- HB 2415 which would reduce the mandatory retirement age from 75 years old
to 65 years old for members of the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of
- HB 2416 would split the Court of Appeals into two divisions. One devoted
to only criminal appeals (five judges) and the other devoted to civil appeals (nine
judges). In addition, this bill would limit the jurisdiction of the Kansas
Supreme Court to those areas outlined by the Kansas Constitution.
The KBA Board of Governors has
voted to oppose both of these bills.
It would not be a surprise if the
criticisms of the Kansas Supreme Court continue throughout the winter and into
the legislative session. Calls to alter the way Kansas Supreme Court justices
are selected will most likely pick up steam, as will proposals to stifle the
independence of the courts. Even now Kansas legislators are asking higher-education
officials to lobby the Supreme Court in an effort to save higher education
dollars. See Editorial: Court influence,
Lawrence Journal-World (Nov. 7, 2013), http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2013/nov/07/editorial-court-influence/.
What other tactics are used to change
public perception remains to be seen, but rest assured, we can expect a lot