The Wichita Eagle, March 26
Lawmakers showing contempt for courts:
State lawmakers find new ways each week to show contempt for Kansas' courts, as if a relationship already at risk of constitutional crisis over school finance needed more heat.
In the midst of the Legislature's hasty repeal this month of the 23-year-old school-finance formula, which is central to school districts' ongoing lawsuit against the state, a three-judge panel said it could act to "preserve the status quo" while the case is considered.
That set off lawmakers' talk about the potential "ramifications" of another court order to dramatically increase K-12 funding say, that it would hit the state budget hard and the judiciary might "share in that pain," or that a constitutional amendment giving the governor free rein to pick Kansas Supreme Court justices might newly find favor in the House as well as the Senate.
This week saw the introduction of Senate Bill 297, which aims to spell out grounds for the impeachment of Supreme Court justices. Its justifications for why a justice might be ousted from the bench by the Legislature include not only criminal and unethical conduct but also "attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power" and "attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government."
Many lawmakers, fuming over court rulings that school funding is unconstitutionally low, likely would declare the high court guilty of those counts already though the judiciary has actually been doing its job of ensuring the level of state K-12 funding fulfills the mandate in the state constitution.
Meanwhile, Senate leaders put 2016-17 court funding in a bill separate from the rest of the state budget. That's a worrying sign of senators' desire not only to give it special scrutiny but perhaps also wed it to policy changes related to judicial selection and other issues. The House version of the overall state budget has the judiciary within it, though neither chamber has demonstrated a willingness to increase the funding for the next two years to the levels the judicial branch says are needed just to pay for basic operations.
The Legislature's other available tools of attempted intimidation include pending bills to lower justices' mandatory retirement age and to replace the Kansas Court of Appeals with separate civil and criminal appellate courts. Waiting in the wings: proposed constitutional amendments that, if approved by the Legislature and voters, would have Kansas switch to direct partisan election of appellate judges, allow recall elections of judges statewide and make it harder for Supreme Court justices to survive retention votes.
The biggest concern for Kansans is not the troubling lack of respect shown by one branch of state government for another as unseemly and unnecessary as it is but how that might lead to further assaults on the funding, authority and independence of the state judiciary.
The courts must have all three in order to serve Kansans and justice properly.
Salina Journal, March 30
Who's really clueless about school funding?
Perhaps Salina GOP Sen. Tom Arpke is right and the Kansas' school funding formula is seriously flawed.
Perhaps, Aprke was right when he said at the March 21 legislative issues forum in Salina that what the Kansas Supreme Court regards as important is outcomes, not whether enough money is being spent on schools. However, there are plenty of school administrators who will argue that if given the money that they're due in the school funding formula, they can improve the outcomes of their students.
But we're certain that Aprke is wrong when he says that the three-judge panel in Shawnee County that's considering the current school funding lawsuit doesn't have a "clue how our funding formula works today."
As many times as the school districts have sued the state over the past 40 years, there are any number of judges who are quite familiar with the intricacies of the funding formula, to say nothing of the law. We also think the judges probably see the state's move to end the current funding formula and go to block grant funding for the next two years for what it is — a way to do an end-run on the current formula.
That's why the court said it has the authority to stop the block grants and restore the current funding formula. That's also why Thursday four school districts asked the court to halt block-grant funding plan.
Arpke has accused the court of "sticking its nose where it doesn't belong." But this is a matter before the court, so it probably is well within its authority to say the state can't skip out on its obligations by changing the formula.
Which brings us to something else Arpke said: "A lot of people say the current (school finance) formula is fine, but we seem to have a lot of lawsuits over it."
Just because the state keeps getting sued doesn't mean the formula is flawed. All it means is that the state won't fund the schools the way it's been ordered to by the courts, so the schools keep suing.
Up to now, all the state has shown is that it doesn't want to fund schools the way it's been ordered, and the judges certainly aren't clueless about that.
The Hutchinson News, March 25
Lawmakers focus on vengeance instead of good policy:
Legislation based in spite or blind hatred doesn't often come without some ill consequences and that's certainly the case with House Bill 2096, which is designed to damage public employee unions.
The bill, which advanced quickly thanks to the questionable "gut-and-go" legislative process, would ban public employees from making automatic payroll deductions for anything other than insurance, taxes and pension plans.
Caught in the crossfire are groups such as the United Way that rely a great deal on the automatic payroll deduction for their fundraising. The legislation is so questionable and filled with ill consequences that even the great and powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce has backed away from a bill it originally supported.
The groundswell of opposition to the bill and the damage it would inflict on nonprofits seems to have stopped the measure, at least momentarily.
This legislation has its origins in conservative lawmakers' dislike of labor unions, particularly those that represent public employees. Instead of drafting legislation that actually helps people or effectively manages the state's affairs, this batch of lawmakers spends entirely too much time searching for ways to be punitive or dismantling anything that doesn't mesh with their singular point of view.
Such an approach to lawmaking is childish and destructive. Instead of electing statesmen to weigh and consider issues on their individual merits, it seems we've largely sent to Topeka men and women who seek to use their office to rewrite the laws so that every Kansan must live under the "right" ideals.
When spite is the basis for much of the state's legislation, Kansans can expect to see laws passed that are hastily written, poorly thought-out and enacted with little discussion or consideration of the long-term effects of their poor decisions.
Lawrence Journal-World, March 29
Lawmakers should boost renewable energy efforts, not hamper them:
The Kansas renewable energy industry has been growing and thriving, but some measures still active in the Kansas Legislature could bring an end to that.
Wind is the big renewable energy player in Kansas, but solar power and biomass production also are making strides. One of the keys to growth, especially for wind power, was approval of the renewable portfolio standards in 2009. The standards required major Kansas utility companies to gradually increase the amount of power they get from renewable sources to 20 percent by 2020. The standards have provided a solid market for wind producers in the state without placing an undue burden on energy companies. Westar Energy indicates it already has reached the 20 percent mark.
Despite that success, two different bills have been introduced to eliminate the renewable energy requirement or freeze it at 10 percent. The Senate bill would maintain the 10 percent requirement through this year and then eliminate it completely.
Other bills would modify the property tax exemption on renewable energy generation projects and place a new 4.33 percent excise tax on electricity produced from renewable sources. Because most Kansas wind projects have conation or payment-in-lieu of taxes agreements with local taxing entities, state wind experts say that changing the tax picture for existing wind projects could create real problems. Depending on how the provisions are worded, companies might end up being liable both for ongoing local payments and new state-ordered taxes.
Critics of the renewable energy standards claim they interfere with the free market and significantly add to the price that Kansas consumers pay for electrical power. However, that added cost is minimal. According to a Kansas Corporation Commission's report, the state's retail electrical cost is 9.95 cents per kilowatt hour. The renewable portfolio standards account for just 0.22 of a cent of that cost.
Kansas has huge potential for renewable energy production, especially in the area of wind power. According to the Kansas Department of Commerce, Kansas is ranked second in the nation for potential wind energy production, and projections indicate that by 2030, the state could be producing 7,000 megawatts of wind energy for export each year. The renewable energy industry also attracted a Siemens wind turbine production facility to the state and has fueled new wind energy-related programs at several community colleges.
At least some of the legislation listed above seems to be stalled for now, perhaps because enough legislators — and their constituents — recognize how the state's support of wind energy is paying off. This is a growing industry that has the potential to produce an economic boon for Kansas, especially in that western part of the state, which needs all the economic help it can get. Any legislation that squelches that progress would be a move in the wrong direction.