Kansas high court opposes judicial budget

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Supreme Court has criticized a judicial budget that ties funding to policy changes and was signed recently by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The bill allocates an additional $2 million from the state general fund to the judicial branch, but Chief Justice Lawton Nuss has said more than $8 million would be needed.

“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 issued Friday after the signing was announced by the governor’s office.

Under the new law, the chief judges of individual district courts will have the authority to decide how to spend their budgets. The chief justice will still decide how much money goes to each district court, but will not have power over how it is spent. Nuss had warned that courts could be forced to close in July if more money was not appropriated for the judicial branch, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1f8e67I ).

The governor’s office did not comment on the statement.

The court said the measure “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.”

Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, said the bill’s increase in docket fees will help increase revenue by $6 million. King said this bill and another measure that increased pay for judicial employees together add a total of $10 million for the judicial branch budget.

“If a $10 million increase in the judicial branch budget is not enough to fund judicial branch operations, that may show why we need to give district courts more control over their local budgets to find efficiencies,” King said.

Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans For Fair Courts, told the newspaper in an email that the bill represented political retribution against the court by the Legislature.

“We are disheartened that the Governor has allowed political retribution to stand as a substitute for reasoned policymaking and respect for the rule of law,” Wright said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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