Chipping away. Is the End of Local Control in Kansas Near?
Kansas legislators love to talk about “local control” but every day they are chipping away at it, considering and often passing legislation giving control of schools, cities, and counties to the Legislature.
Take for example a bill to cap local property taxes, limiting what a municipality can do to provide services to residents. The legislature is saying you can’t raise those taxes even if your residents want to. As the governor and legislature continue their march to zero revenue in the state treasury, they seek to limit a municipality’s ability to make up the difference. No local control
Bills get hearings that would prohibit municipalities from sending someone to lobby the legislature on behalf of the city, county or school district. No local control.
A bill passed that prohibits state tax dollars from being spent on lobbying against expanded access to guns. If a municipal lobbyist comes forward to oppose a bill allowing guns in the city council chambers, they must prove that only local tax dollars paid for those minutes of the lobbyist’s time. No local control.
There was a hearing today on a bill (SB 368) to prohibit cities, counties, and school districts from publishing information on bond issues to be placed before the voters. You can put a bond issue up but you can’t tell the voters about the good you expect to get from it. Of course there are no limits on what Americans for Prosperity of the Kansas Policy Institute can publish about the issue. No local control.
We have mandatory consolidation of school districts (HB 2504) – local boards and voters have nothing to say. There are bills to make school boards limit what instructional materials teachers may use (SB 56). There was even a bill mandating when schools must teach our founding documents (Celebrate Freedom Week). No local control.
The governor and legislative leadership are on a mission to consolidate their control of all levels of government. A constitutional amendment giving the governor control of Supreme Court justices is under consideration today. Dissent is being stifled (see our lead article today). And now they are chipping away at Kansas’ long tradition of local control. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
What’s Really Going On with Working after Retirement Rules?
The House Pensions Subcommittee reviewing the Working after Retirement (WAR) policies met today. The members of the subcommittee are Rep. Stephen Johnson (R-Asaria), Rep. John Edmonds (Great Bend), Rep. Jim Kelly (R-Independence) and Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield). The subcommittee is reviewing the recent changes in the WAR policies in order to “tweak” them to give school districts and other employers a little more flexibility to hire people to work after retirement which is our understanding of the work assigned to the subcommittee.
The subcommittee is reviewing what each potential tweak to the policies might cost the system, what changes need to happen in order to comply with the IRS concerns about prearranged deals for WAR, the hardship category rules, and then how to help employers hire those who need to be hired. It is our belief that the subcommittee is reviewing those category areas in order to make suggestions to simplify the rules and make it easier for employers to hire those who need to be hired to fill the open positions that their entities experience while at the same time limiting the costs to KPERS.
The subcommittee will meet again on Monday at 10 a.m. in a room to be announced.
Kansas House Defeats Constitutional Amendment Giving Control of the Supreme Court to the Governor
In a final action vote today, the Kansas House rejected an attempt to change the Kansas Constitution and return the selection of Supreme Court Justices to the world of politics and ideology.
The genesis of this amendment is the frustration conservation legislators and Governor Brownback have with a court that has called them out for their failure to provide for public education as mandated in the constitution.
Like amendments have been debated since the decision in the Montoy court case more than a decade ago. Constitutional amendments require a super-majority vote in both chambers. The House would require 84 votes to pass the amendment. The vote today was 68 to 54.
Why does Kansas have the merit system for appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court?
Prior to the adoption of a constitutional amendment creating the Supreme Court Nomination Commission, the Kansas governor made appointment to the court. This is the system that Governor Brownback and his allies wish to restore.
The change was due to the perfectly legal but unethical manipulation of the process that took place in 1956-57.
Here it is explained by Kansas Memory on the Kansas State Historical Society website:
Incumbent Governor [Fred] Hall was defeated in the 1956 Republican primary by Warren Shaw, who lost in the general election to George Docking. Then Chief Justice [William] Smith resigned from the Supreme Court due to ill health on December 31, Hall quickly resigned as governor on January 3, 1957, and Lieutenant Governor [John] McCuish became governor for the next eleven days. McCuish immediately appointed Hall to the newly vacated Supreme Court seat. While perfectly legal, this sequence of actions was considered by many to be highly unethical. In response to the “triple play,” the 1957 Kansas legislature passed a resolution for a constitutional amendment concerning the way judges were appointed. The amendment was passed in the 1958 general election. (See the documents by clicking here.)
The Kansas legislature and Kansas voters decided in 1958 to take the selection of justices out of politics and put it in the hands of an independent commission.
The Commission has nine members. The Chair who is an attorney elected by attorneys state-wide and two members from each of the four congressional districts – one attorney selected by attorneys in that district and one non-attorney selected by the governor. These commissioners review all applicants for a position on the court. They weigh the merits of each candidate and the candidate’s qualifications. The commission sends three names to the governor who selects from that list.
This is truly a non-political merit system. Justices are not chosen based on the likelihood they will rule according the governor’s personal ideology. Despite the talk of “special interests” in the House debate, the merit system denies special interest groups a say in the selection of justices. When selection is put in the hands of politicians, those selected are chosen for adherence to a particular ideology. Is the person anti-abortion? Is the person a gun control advocate?
Proponents of the change want you to believe that they are simply following the “federal model.” To an extent this is true. And looking at the federal model should give one pause. If the party of the incumbent president holds a strong majority in the Senate, the president’s nominee sails through. If not, there is open warfare while the political leanings of the nominee are debated and dragged through the mud.
Kansas has a true merit selection process. It is the best way to ensure that Kansas has a Supreme Court that is bound to the law and not to ideology. That means sometimes each of us will be delighted with court decisions and sometimes we’ll be angry. But the court will rule on the law, not the political whim of the day.