Kansas Budget Bill Found Unconstitutional

     (CN) – Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s attempt to strip state courts of funding if any Kansas court struck his budget bill as unconstitutional failed this week, when a state judge did just that.
     Brownback, a radical right-wing Republican, signed a budget bill last year to fund state courts for the next two years, with a non-severability clause stating that if any Kansas judge struck down the 2014 bill the entire state judiciary would be stripped of funding.
     Chief Judge Larry Solomon, in the state’s 30th Judicial District, sued the state in February this year, claiming Brownback’s bill violated the constitutional separation of powers. Solomon filed a brief in support of summary judgment in July.
     On Wednesday night, Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks denied Brownback’s motion to dismiss, granted Solomon summary judgment, and struck § 11 of 2014 Substitute for House Bill 2338 as unconstitutional: a violation of the Kansas Constitution’s separation of powers.
     Section 11 changed the state’s method of selecting the chief judge in each judicial district, from appointment by the state supreme court to election by the judges in each judicial district.
     The Kansas Supreme Court opposed the bill from its inception.
     “The Supreme Court of Kansas has strongly opposed this bill since its creation. We are troubled now that it has been signed by the governor,” the court said in a statement in April 2014.
     “It weakens the centralized authority of the Kansas unified court system in exchange for money to pay our employees and keep courts open. And the money it provides still may fall short of even doing that. This is a poor trade. We have very serious concerns about what will happen to the administration of justice in Kansas. We believe Kansans deserve better.”
     On Thursday attorneys moved to stay Judge Hendricks’ ruling pending review by the state supreme court, for fear it would defund the entire Kansas court system.
     “If allowed to go into effect, the budgeting law would bring dire consequences for every Kansan,” Solomon’s attorney Pedro Irigonegaray said in a statement. “Without funding, our state courts would close, criminal cases would not be prosecuted, civil matters would be put on hold, real estate could not be bought or sold, adoptions could not be completed. Justice would be delayed, potentially denied, for Kansans and for anyone else relying on our judicial system for justice. We must not allow the Kansas Legislature and Governor Brownback to get away with this outrageous disregard for the rule of law and reckless disrespect for the independence of Kansas’ judiciary.”
     Brownback toes the extreme right wing Republican line, opposing evolution, favoring teaching creationism as science, opposing abortion and public funding of the arts, cutting state support for education, and favoring school prayer. His budget bill, and other legislation he introduced, were based on models provided him by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
     Brownback promised that enormous tax cuts he signed into law in 2012 and 2013 would revitalize the Kansas economy. But the $3.8 billion tax cuts left the state with a budget deficit of $400 million, caused school districts to end the year early, and both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the state’s bond rating. The Legislature approved tax increases this summer as public schools, universities and other state workers faced layoffs.
     Brownback’s office is expected to appeal Judge Hendricks’ ruling.
     The Shawnee County seat is Topeka, the state capital.

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