Capitol Update: Rooker says only way to break cycle of litigation is to ‘meet constitutional duty’ and properly fund schools

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Melissa Rooker, Rep. Tom Cox and Sen. John Skubal are submitting updates this week. Here’s Rep. Rooker’s filing:

The legislature reached our First Adjournment just after midnight Saturday. A few weeks ago, I wrote that I thought we were in for a wild ride to the finish but little did I know just how unpredictable things would really get.

HCR 5029, an amendment to change Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, was voted out of House Judiciary last week. The proposed amendment retains the clause directing the legislature to make suitable provision for the finance of public education, but adds a sentence that declares:

“The power to establish and the jurisdiction to resolve all questions regarding the adequacy of such provision shall be exclusively within the power of the legislature of the state.”

Let that sink in – the power to establish funding amounts AND the power to decide if those amounts are adequate would be solely the power of one branch of government. Our founding fathers are rolling in their graves right now. This new sentence removes an important check on runaway legislative power, that of judicial review. I do not support this.

The most common complaint used by those who seek to change the constitution is that we have been locked in an “endless cycle of litigation” therefore the constitution is to blame. The stubborn refusal of the legislature to live up to our obligation to Kansas school children is the real culprit.

Had we achieved the Montoy settlement target funding, and then done nothing more than keep up with inflation for the subsequent years, we would not be battling in court today. The legislature has had multiple opportunities to “make suitable provision for the finance of the public education interests of the state,” but instead chose to repeal the funding formula, freeze funding for two years at levels previously found to be unconstitutional, cut taxes and claim insufficient levels of revenues to do any more for schools.

Only when we have met our constitutional duty to provide appropriate funding to achieve the goals we are holding our schools accountable for can we reasonably expect to break the cycle of litigation.

Over the weekend, we finally passed a school finance plan. The governor has already indicated he intends to sign it and our Attorney General has his team working on the legal briefs due April 30 to the Supreme Court.

I cannot predict what the court will decide, no one can. Some of my colleagues are convinced we are spending too little, some are convinced we are spending too much, others chose to ignore funding to continue tinkering with policy. Ultimately, it takes 63 representatives and 21 senators to find common ground. Bringing legislation over the finish line requires understanding of what it will take to move through both chambers and a willingness to negotiate and compromise.

The process itself, at least in the House, is worth a mention. Too often, we hear complaints about the process being shortchanged. In this case, I started drafting the bill in early October, immediately after the Gannon opinion was handed down.

  • January 5 – the bill was completed and prefiled
  • March 15 – it had a full committee hearing with proper public comment
  • March 26-28 – three full committee days working the bill – all committee members were invited to bring amendments
  • April 2 – the House worked the bill in the committee of the whole, but it failed to pass
  • April 3 – the House worked the bill for a second day, passing it 71-53. Both days, anyone could bring amendments and many did.

All of this to say, the opportunity to hear, debate, amend and contribute to the legislation was made fully available to all members of the House. There is a significant difference between not being successful at passing your ideas and not having the chance to try. It was messy and contentious at times, but in the end the work product reflects “the will of the body,” as it should.

The legislature is now off until April 26. Veto session will be unusually short this year as the Senate passed an adjournment order that is highly irregular. The Senate order fails to include a break before the final day (Sine Die). The problem? It removes an important check on Executive power – the governor will have the power to veto legislation passed in that final 8 days but the legislature will have no way to consider a veto override if he does. Keep in mind, we still have the budget to reconcile.

Join me this 7pm Thursday, April 12 at the Matt Ross Center for an education update, hosted by Mainstream Coalition. I look forward to being on the panel.