Constitutional Amendment on Judges; Teacher PAC bill

Constitutional Amendment on Judges; Teacher PAC bill

Judicial selection change recommended by House Committee

The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday afternoon to recommend House Concurrent Resolution 5002, a constitutional amendment to allow the Governor to appoint members of the Kansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, subject State Senate Confirmation.  It would replace the current system in which the Governor must choose from names recommended by a commission composed primarily of attorneys chosen through the Kansas bar.
KASB members have voted to oppose changes in the current system, called merit selection.  However, earlier this month, the KASB Board of Directors voted to support a plan to restructure the judicial nomination commission so that four members are chosen by attorneys, five appointed by the Governor and six by Legislative leaders, giving elected officials a majority of appointments; called the 4-5-6 plan.  The House committee did not accept that alternative.
The Senate Judiciary Committee may vote today on similar proposals to change the way appeals court judges are selected.  In addition to direct appointment by the Governor with Senate confirmations, sometimes called the “federal model,” and revising the nominating commission, a third proposal under consideration would provide for partisan election of judges.
Any change in the selection of Supreme Court judges requires a constitutional amendment that must pass both the state Senate and House by a two-thirds majority each, and be approved by voters in a statewide election.  HCR 5002 sets that election for November of 2014.  It is unclear with there will be 84 House votes to support the proposal; and a vote is not expected immediately.  School leaders are encouraged to contact your state representatives about this issue.

Governor Brownback endorsed either the federal model or direct election in his State of the State address.  Many conservative legislators say the current system is biased against conservative judges and principles.  Frustration with the courts has been increased by the Montoy school finance case in 2005 and the Gannon decision earlier this month (by a three-judge panel of district court judges), both of which ordered the Legislature to spend more money on education.  They say the current system lacks accountability to the people.

KASB that the current system provides for an independent judiciary, strengthening the system of checks and balances; and has helped enforce the constitutional requirement that the Legislature “make suitable provision for finance” of public education.  KASB delegate voted for this position in the “First in Eductation” resolution adopted last December.

House Committee hears contentious payroll deduction bill
The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee is expected to vote today on HB 2023, which would prohibit professional teachers organizations such as the Kansas National Education Association from using funds collected through payroll deductions for its political action committee.  Instead, members interested in contributing to that purpose would have to use another method of transferring the funds, such as writing a check or doing an electronic transfer.
The bill had a contentious hearing yesterday, which ranged over larger isues about public sectors unions and dues.  However, the specific language is limited to the use of payroll deductions for “political activities,” which are defined as “any activity carried out for the purpose of influencing, in whole or part, any election for a state, local government or board of education office, including activities or causes of a partisan political or ideological nature engaged in by a public employee organization for such purpose, and including contributions to a political committee, continuing political employee committee, or both, for the purpose of aiding or promoting the endorsement, nomination, election or defeat of a candidate for public office of the state or of a county, municipality or school district, or the passage or defeat of any public question.”
The bill would make it illegal for any professional employees’ organization, as defined in K.S.A. 72-5413, i.e. teacher associations, to use any dues, fees, assessments or any periodic payments deducted from a member’s paycheck for the purpose of engaging in such activities.
Proponents of the bill included Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, speaking as a teacher; the Kansas Chamber; and the National Federation of Independent Business.  Opponents of the bill included Kansas-National Education Association, the United Steel Workers, the Kansas AFL-CIO and several others including a teacher and a retired teacher.  KASB did not testify on the bill.
A similar but broader bill covering both public and private sector unions passed the House last session, but the moderate Senate leadership did not bring it to Senate floor.