There were two court decisions this week that highlight why it is urgent and necessary to reform the judicial selection process in Kansas. Both rulings gave stark revelations about how irrational and political many of the judges are in Kansas about particular issues. This is why reforming the judicial selection process is so critical.
Kansas Court of Appeals Decision
During the 2015 Session, the Legislature overwhelmingly approved a ban on dismemberment abortion. It is a cruel and barbaric method that involves tearing off the limbs of a living unborn child.
In 2013, dismemberment abortions occurred in 600 out of the 7,500 abortions in Kansas.
After the legislation was signed into law, the abortion lobby filed suit in Shawnee County Court and the district judge struck down the law, declaring the Kansas Constitution protects the right to an abortion in line with the U.S. Constitution.
This is a far-reaching ruling that basically says abortion is a fundamental liberty in Kansas, including the dismemberment of a living unborn child in the womb.
The case was appealed by the Kansas attorney general and yesterday the Kansas Court of Appeals released its 7-7 ruling - a tied ruling that upholds the lower court ruling, continuing the hold on the dismemberment ban. It also virtually eliminates all other pro-life legislation we have enacted in Kansas.
The case will be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, but the majority of justices on the Kansas Supreme Court are further to the left on the political spectrum than the majority of judges on the Court of Appeals, so there is little hope for change.
This ruling is devastating to life and liberty in Kansas.
While this turn of events is tragic and serious, please do not despair. I will keep you informed about possible next steps.
CARR BROTHERS DEATH SENTENCES UPHELD
One may be in favor or against the death penalty, but that is an issue that should be determined legislatively through your elected officials. It should not be determined by Kansas Supreme Court justices through extravagant speculative rulings.
In the winter of 2000, the Carr brothers committed crimes of rape, robbery, kidnapping, and murdered five people in Wichita. Justice Antonia Scalia described these as acts of "almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity." The two were tried jointly and sentenced to death. However, in 2014 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the verdicts invalid.
The United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the Kansas Supreme Court Justices unjustly overturned the death sentences of the nefarious Carr brothers.
Judicial Retention Elections
In the next election cycle, you will have an opportunity to vote on retaining or not retaining certain judges. The four judges that voted to make abortion a fundamental right are:
Kansas Court of Appeals
Judge Steve Leben
Judge G. Joseph Pierron
Judge Karen Arnold-Burger
Judge Gordon Atcheson
Below are justices who serve on the Kansas Supreme Court up for retention. These have made rulings out of step with Kansas values:
Kansas Supreme Court
Justice Lawton Nuss
Justice Carol Beier
Justice Dan Biles
Justice Marla Luckert
So how did we get here?
We need to consider how Kansas received such a high percentage of left-wing judges. Take a look at this chart:
As you can see, while several states have a judicial nominating commission, Kansas is the only state in the country that has a system in which the Kansas Bar Association "picks the pickers" by having control over a majority of who is on the nominating commission.
That means that regardless of who the governor is - Graves, Sebelius, or Brownback, the system is rigged to produce a judge favored by lawyers, the very people who are going before the court, with no line of accountability to the people of Kansas.
Some in the media and most on the left claim that a judicial selection system based on the federal model (in which the governor would select a nominee of his/her choice, subject to the confirmation of the Senate) would only produce conservative justices. I don't believe that would be the case.
While Governor Brownback would most likely select conservative (right-wing) justices, Governor Bill Graves would have appointed left-of-center justices, and Governor Kathleen Sebelius would have appointed left-wing justices.
If Kansas had the federal system in place, there would likely be a court balance similar to that of the United States Supreme Court, a balance reflective of the people. The Kansas Supreme Court is the third branch of state government and should also be reflective of the people.
You will get to have a voice in the final decision after we pass a Constitutional Amendment to change the method of selection for the Kansas Supreme Court. To pass, it will take two-thirds vote in favor from each chamber. It does not require the governor's signature, but instead would be put on the ballot for a vote by the people.
Now, more than ever, we must get this done. We must bring our judicial selection system back into the mainstream.
Last year, the Kansas Legislature passed the HOPE Act, welfare reform legislation which passed both chambers overwhelmingly (House-87-35 and Senate 30-10). It is one of the most comprehensive welfare reforms in the nation and has helped many adults move out of the welfare system and on to climbing a ladder of success.
Since its implementation by DCF, able-bodied adult enrollment has been reduced by 70 percent. Able-bodied adults saw their income increase 127% within a year of leaving food stamps, and poverty rates among those leaving food stamps dropped significantly. Administrative costs have also declined by over 7 percent.
Thursday morning, House Health Chairman Dan Hawkins and I held a press conference unveiling several changes to last year's "HOPE Act." It will promote personal responsibility and it is designed to end cycles of generational poverty.
Health committees (I am chairman of the Senate), are seeking to make a number of improvements to the HOPE Act, including the following:
- Crosscheck lottery winners of more than $10,000
- Verify the identity of all adults in an assistance household
- Require all those receiving assistance to cooperate with fraud investigations
- Monitor excessive benefit card replacements
- Provide greater ability for the Secretary to monitor, enforce and recover assistance
The HOPE Act will continue to encourage those receiving benefits to find work, and it will also ensure benefits are protected for those who need them while strengthening anti-fraud measures.
OSOWATOMIE STATE HOSPITAL
I agreed to be the chairman of a joint House and Senate health committee hearing on the subject of Osawatomie State Hospital, where several problems have been created by the federal government through its CMS agency. Interim Secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), Tim Keck, highlighted the staffing problems at the hospital and acknowledged the need to get it resolved quickly.
Commissioner Bill Rein, legal counsel to the department, told the joint committee that the biggest problem at the state hospital isn't funding as much as it is the ability to hire and retain qualified personnel for particular positions.
Keck briefly explained his work with a consultant who will propose solutions to the issues Osawatomie has been facing. It is the department's plan to continue to keep 146 beds for patients. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services announced it will seek Medicare recertification for the Osawatomie State Hospital following a decision by CMS to halt payment.
Stay tuned on this one. There will be work in several areas to improve the well-being of mentally ill patients.
This week, the Senate Commerce Committee received an update on revenue receipts and estimates from Secretary Nick Jordan. The secretary stated Kansas' unemployment rate is at 4%, which is the lowest our state has experienced in 14 years.
Secretary Jordan referenced recent revenue trends, including:
- Corporate Income Tax - Trends are normal. Fiscal year to date through December we are up 2.6% over estimates.
- Use Tax - Receipts are increasing. Fiscal year to date through December we are up 2.5% over estimates.
- Individual Income Tax - Receipts are growing year over year, even with a further rate reduction in 2015.
- Sales Tax - Receipts have declined since Spring 2015.
(Source: Kansas Department of Revenue)
The Department of Revenue indicated other states with significant oil and agriculture industries have also experienced a decline in sales tax receipts. The department pinpointed a number of possible factors that could be contributing to the decline, including consumers paying down debts, on-line sales and increased health care costs. For Tax Year 2013, Kansas saw 8,666 first time small business filers bring in $486.7 million in new income to the state.
Several lawmakers voiced their concern with the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group's process and suggested making statutory changes which would allow for more outside input and expertise in the revenue estimating procedure.
Commerce Secretary Confirmation Hearing
Senate Commerce Committee recommended the confirmation of Antonio Soave as secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce. Soave received a bachelor's degree from American University in international studies, his juris doctor at Detroit College of Law, and an international law master's degree at the University of San Diego. He has interned with President Reagan, co-owned professional soccer teams, served as the executive director of the School of Business at Benedictine College, and is serving as the chairman and CEO of Capistrano Global Advisory Services in Overland Park, Kansas. Soave gave testimony about his plans to implement a business tool known as "Strategic Market Entry Analysis" that would provide measurements on the state's economic development programs.
Mr. Soave's confirmation will now go to the full Senate for final approval.
Kansas Republican Caucus - March 5th
The Shawnee-area location for the Kansas Caucus on March 5th has been announced:
Rhein Benninghoven Elementary School
Shawnee, KS 66213
The time of the Caucus is from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. If you can't make it to this location, you may want to attend any of the eight locations in Johnson County. There will be over 100 places in the state of Kansas.
If you're interested in volunteering, please contact Mike Pirner at email@example.com
. He is my Campaign Executive Director and is also the captain for the Shawnee Caucus site. It is imperative we receive at least 30 volunteers who can perform various tasks.
Thank you for reading this week's newsletter. I appreciate all who have written so far with your opinions on legislation before us.
In honor of your liberty,