- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House proposal to cut the number of court reporters in the state would save up to $1.3 million and open the door to increased electronic recording, the measure’s chief architect said.

But opponents such as Democratic Wichita Rep. Jim Ward say the bill is evidence that some members of the House Appropriations Committee don’t understand what court reporters do, The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1cOcW5U ) reported Tuesday.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who sponsored the bill, said during a committee hearing Tuesday that 96 Kansas courts already have the capacity to do some electric recording. The committee approved its judicial branch budget recommendations, which include a transfer of $180,000 from the state general fund to convert courtrooms for electronic recording.

DeGraaf said electronic recordings would be just as effective as “the antiquated use of fingers and typing.”

“I’m not sure you’re going to get any less accuracy; some would say you’re going to get more accuracy,” DeGraaf said.

His proposal would eliminate 13 vacancies and cut 18 current court reporter positions, a reduction of 15 percent. Some of the laid-off court reporters could potentially be rehired in new positions, DeGraaf said.

He said the move could save between $750,000 to $1.3 million in the first year.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat, questioned the reliability of electronic recording and suggested the Legislature make the transition a recommendation, rather than a requirement.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the Kansas Bar Association tweeted that none of the representatives deciding the issue at the hearing was an attorney. Rep. Mark Kahrs, a Wichita Republican, is an attorney but was absent from the meeting.

Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat who is an attorney but does not serve on the committee, said it was frustrating that saving money was the basis for the recommendation.

“That’s why you shouldn’t have a plumber be your lawyer or a doctor be your plumber,” Ward said. He argued that some of the Appropriations Committee members approving the change do not fully understand the purpose of a court reporter.

“By far and away the best method of preserving testimony and ensuring a good review of trials is by having a court reporter, a human being, translating the words into that machine,” he said.

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

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