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Selection of Supreme Court Justices
The Kansas House has begun to move a few bills for floor debate and votes.  The most significant legislation to date relates to a proposed Constitutional amendment to change the method for selection and appointment of Supreme Court Justices.  The proposal advanced for consideration can best be described as the “Federal Model”.  The proposed model provided for the Governor to select and appoint justices with review and approval by the Kansas Senate.  One distinction between the structure of Kansas Government and the Federal Government is that each state has two senators in the United States Senate and Kansas Senatorial Districts are determined by population.  Under the Federal model each state has equal representation in the confirmation process, rural or urban.  In Kansas, the urban districts make up the majority of senate districts which means that the urban centers of the state would have more say in the confirmation process than rural.  The current Supreme Court Nominating Commission has an equal distribution of members from the four congressional districts in the state and a chairman that is selected at-large.  This model provides for geographic fairness in the nomination of justices for the Governor to consider for appointment.
 
Topeka lobbyists worked hard to make the judicial selection issue out to be a pro-life issue because they know that influences voters. They have already indicated they will tell Kansas voters that any legislator who voted against the judicial selection bill is not pro-life. It is interesting that the lobbyists pushed for Kansas to implement the federal court model – the same model that gave us the Roe v. Wade decision in the first place.

 
My voting record in support of pro-life legislation speaks for itself and I remain committed to upholding our community’s pro-life values. This vote was about keeping our courts transparent and our judges accountable. While I am willing to support an amendment proposal that slightly changes the composition of the nominating commission, I do not believe further consolidation of power in the hands of our Governors will provide a transparent process that assures the best qualified candidate is appointed rather than political cronies. A survey of likely Republican voters in the 122nd this summer revealed that 73% of survey respondents did not support the “Federal Model” for selection and appointment of justices.  I voted no on this proposal.
 

Budget Progress
Work continues on balancing the state budget for Fiscal Year 2016 and 2017.  Efforts to invade the Children’s Initiative Fund to help balance the budget have not been successful.  These funds are collected from tobacco companies as a result of a settlement agreement entered into years ago.  The funds are earmarked to support early childhood education programs and are out of the reach of the Governor in the event allotments are needed to balance the state budget when the legislature is not in session.  At this point it appears the funding for early childhood programs will be spared.
 
Budget recommendations thus far include providing a 2.5% increase in wage for all uniformed officers of the Kansas Department of Corrections and there is a provision that allows the Director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to adjust the pay scale for field agents and special investigators within his budget authority.  All of the public safety agencies of the state are experiencing significant difficulty in recruiting new employees because the compensation for these positions is not competitive with city and county criminal justice agencies.  Hopefully these increases will allow them to recruit and retain quality staff.  I expect the final budget proposal will be voted on during the next week.
 
We will very soon be debating accelerating the effective date of the local property tax lid imposed via the tax bill that was passed last year.  I did not support the historic increase in sales tax or the tax lid contained in the bill.  The property tax lid will limit cities and counties from increasing their budget more than an amount equal to the consumer price index from one year to the next.  Any spending increase beyond the cost of living would have to be approved through a public election.  A survey I conducted over the summer months resulted in 82% of respondents indicating they did not support a property tax cap for cities and counties.  City and county officials are locally elected and are accountable to the people they represent.  City and county budgets are published in local papers and a public hearing is held to allow people to comment on the proposed budget before a final budget is adopted.  Very few if any people appear to comment on budget proposals across the district.  I don’t see a need for this kind of limitation and the imposition of new cost for local communities as they develop their annual budget.  As much as we dislike the federal government overreaching, I think the same can be said about state relations with cities and counties.  The state should stay out of the business of local units of government to the extent possible.  Local budget decisions are decisions made by duly elected local officials and the state should stay out of their way in managing their local affairs.
 
I am interested in your thoughts about these and all of the issues our state is facing.  If you find yourself in Topeka, please drop in at my office to visit. You can contact me at my office:  785-296-7196 or email at: russ.jennings@house.ks.gov . You can also contact me at my cell number: 620-290-1545 or my personal email: jrussj@gmail.com .

 

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Serving the citizens of GreeleyHamiltonKearny, 
and parts of FinneyGrant, and Haskell Counties in Western Kansas.
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