News from the Capitol--March 11, 2016

The second half of the legislative session resumed last week with an abbreviated week in Topeka.  We did make some progress in committee on some important pieces of legislation that I will address in this newsletter, but a lot of the focus last week was on the Kansas Caucus.

As you know if you participated, almost three times as many people turned out for the Kansas Caucus this year than in 2012, resulting in long lines around the state, including here in Johnson County. I had a booth at the site at Rhein Benninghoven and I witnessed the dedication of so many voters who stood in line to cast their votes. There were some computer issues that slowed the process down, but our dedicated team of volunteers were able to shift to allowing people to vote provisionally so their vote could be counted.

Due to this high turnout, in the next four years we will have to weigh whether it’s better for our state to have a primary instead.  A primary does cost money, but there comes a point where the turnout is so incredibly heavy it becomes difficult for party volunteers to handle it. That should be a thoughtful discussion and an important one as people do have a right to vote and do so in a timely manner.

We were also grateful for the attention we received, with Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz all paying visits to Kansas. It was an exciting few days for our state!  

Opposing the Gitmo Transfer
One of the things that is unifying legislators in Topeka is our efforts to oppose the transfer of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay Cuba to Fort Leavenworth. To combat this, last week the House passed HCR 5028, urging the Obama Administration to obey the United States Constitution and not transfer the terrorist detainees to Leavenworth. Here are some key things to keep in mind regarding Gitmo transfers:

  • Putting terrorist detainees at Fort Leavenworth automatically makes the prison and the surrounding community an ideological target for terrorist attacks, which is a violation of the government's sworn oath to protect Americans against threats.
  • Fort Leavenworth is not equipped to handle detainees requiring such a high level of security. There is no hospital on the base, so every time a detainee needs medical care they would need to be sent elsewhere, which significantly increases the required logistics, as well as the likelihood of an incident.
  • Housing terrorists would impact the community in unforeseen ways. For example the U.S. Army's Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth would be at such an increased security risk that foreign allies have said they would not send their high ranking officers there for training any longer. This is the intellectual center of the United States military, and nations from all over the world send their best and brightest military personnel to Leavenworth for high level training.  During their time here, they develop personal friendships with their American counterparts. The benefit to this is when a crisis develops somewhere in the world, our military can call their friends personally to get very quick accurate information and find out how the United States can help them. Think of the ‘red phone’ during the Cold War. Many of these graduates become the top Generals in the military of their home countries. A number of them have become presidents and prime ministers of their countries, so you can see how these personal friendships are a huge benefit.  These students bring their families to Leavenworth. They live and shop in the community, and the terrorists know these would be valuable soft targets for attack. This is why it is so critical to avoid making Leavenworth a magnet for terrorists.  

Judicial Branch Reform:  Restoring the Balance of Power
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 439 regarding grounds for judicial impeachment this week. Article Two, Section 28 of the Kansas Constitution states that public officers shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The scope of the bill would expand or clarify those provisions in an effort to restore the balance of power, because right now there is no effective check on courts who have consistently, over a long period of time, acted recklessly and well out of the mainstream. 

The following impeachable offenses are proposed:

  • Indictable criminal offenses
  • Breach of the public trust
  • Breach of judicial ethics
  • Failure to perform adequately the duties of office
  • Attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power
  • Attempt to usurp power of the legislative and executive branches
  • Exhibiting discourteous conduct towards litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others
  • Exhibiting reckless judicial conduct
  • Exhibiting personal misbehavior or misconduct
  • Failure to properly supervise, administer or discipline judicial personnel
  • Of course, opponents of these reforms criticized the Senate for proposing the legislation given the House of Representative’s sole power to impeach in the constitution.  

The hearing for SB 439 will resume next week. I look forward to hearing this bill if it makes it to the House side.

Efficiency Study
As we look to deal with the shortfall in revenue projections that keep occurring, we now must take a serious look at the recommendations suggested by the efficiency study conducted by Alvarez & Marsal late last year. 

These savings, amounting to $2 billion-plus over the next five years, could not only save the state money, but deliver better services in a more sensible way. I look forward to reporting on our progress in adopting these important reforms over the next few weeks.