Kansas Senate advances bill on impeaching Supreme Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators advanced a bill Monday declaring that state Supreme Court justices could be impeached for interfering too much in the Legislature’s business.

Republicans who pushed the impeachment measure to first-round approval in the Senate argued that they’re providing greater guidance on the grounds for impeaching the court’s members and removing them from office. But it’s the latest initiative from GOP conservatives in recent years putting Kansas at the center of a national effort to remake state courts.

Senators also rejected a proposal to encourage the state to provide long-acting birth control to poor residents. The decision came after a GOP member compared the proposal to the discredited eugenics movement of the 20th century that sought to control who could have children in the name of improving the human race.

Here is a look at legislative developments Monday.

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JUDICIAL IMPEACHMENT BILL

The Senate considered the measure on judicial impeachment after the Kanas Supreme Court last month ordered lawmakers to increase the state’s aid to poor school districts — or see schools shut down in July. The chamber’s voice vote advanced the bill to a final vote Tuesday to determine whether the measure goes to the House.

The state constitution says Supreme Court justices can be impeached for treason, bribery or “other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The bill outlines a list of misconduct covered by the latter phrase, including attempting “to usurp” the power of other branches of state government.

Supporters in committee added a similar list of grounds for impeaching for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state and argued Monday that the measure isn’t targeted at the Supreme Court.

“There are no kings in America,” said Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican. “There has to be a recourse and that recourse is plainly laid out.”

But critics said the measure is an attack on the judiciary’s independence.

“It’s an election year,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “It’s a popular sport to beat up on the judicial branch.”

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BIRTH CONTROL DEBATE

The birth control proposal was offered by Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, as an amendment to a bill that would permanently block the state from sending federal family planning dollars for non-abortion services to Planned Parenthood.

Her proposal failed on a voice vote, and the Senate gave the bill first-round approval on a voice vote, with final action set for Tuesday.

Francisco said her proposal would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions among young women. It would have allowed the state health department to contract with family planning providers to make birth control such as IUDs and beneath-the-skin implants available.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and among the Legislature’s most socially conservative members, said such efforts target the poor and minorities.

“In the ’30s and ’40s, our country firmly and finally rejected eugenics,” Pilcher-Cook said. “Let’s not bring it back.”

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said Pilcher-Cook’s comparison was shocking because the eugenics movement advocated measures such as forced sterilization of the mentally ill. Kelly said of Francisco’s proposal, “It’s not even close.”

The underlying bill puts into state law a policy legislators have included in annual state budgets since 2011.

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JUVENILE JUSTICE OVERHAUL

The House approved a bill, 117-6, to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system so that more young, low-risk offenders would stay at home while participating in community-based programs like anger management.

Juvenile offenders can currently be placed in detention centers or group homes for any level of offense. Kansas has the sixth-highest rate of juvenile offenders placed in detention centers or group homes nationwide.

The Senate approved a version of the bill last month, 38-2, but must consider changes made by House members before the measure can go to Gov. Sam Brownback.

The House version of the bill includes a provision to reserve up to 50 beds in group homes for juvenile offenders. The measure approved by the Senate says all group homes will close by July 2018.

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STATE BUILDING PROJECTS

The House also passed, 114-8, a bill to give legislators more control over the state’s use of debt for construction projects. It goes next to the Senate.

The bill would require the full Legislature to authorize bonds, borrowing against the state’s credit or other debt for projects costing $25 million or more. The governor and legislative leaders would have to approve smaller projects.

Lawmakers drafted the bill after a nonprofit corporation affiliated with the University of Kansas went to a Wisconsin agency for $327 million in bonds for campus improvements. Also, Brownback’s administration pursued but canceled a $20 million plan for a new power plant near the Statehouse. Neither project had prior legislative approval.

 

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