Kansas lawmakers move to erase checks and balances

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February 20, 2013 by Nash Riggins

The Kansas Senate is considering an amendment to the state Constitution that would give only the Legislature the authority to determine public funding for schools, completely ignoring the advice of state courts.

The proposed amendment materialised as a direct result of last month’s ruling by a Shawnee County District Court, which said that the Kansas state system for school funding was unconstitutional. Subsequently, the Court recommended that state legislators increase spending on public schools by $440m in the upcoming school year. Apparently Kansas Senators were less than impressed.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to a proposed Constitutional amendment that would limit the power of the state’s judicial branch to review lawsuits over school funding – and the measure will now go to the Republican-controlled Senate floor for debate. Advocates of the amendment are hoping the proposal will be put to voters in August 2014.

Okay. Kansas state legislators have produced some pretty stupid proposals in recent years – including, most recently, last week’s bill seeking to clothe the state’s strippers; however, this new amendment may be the most appalling attempt in recent memory to violate Americans’ rights.

The Constitutional framework of every subservient state and local government within the United States is built upon the notion of checks and balances. Said framework was established by America’s founding fathers with one ideological objective in mind: that no branch of government could ever dictate law without question.

Where the funding for state education is concerned, these checks and balances could not be clearer. According to the Kansas Constitution, “The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” – or rather, the Kansas Senate is responsible for producing legislature that dictates the amount of money allocated to public schools. That said, it should be duly noted that the key word here is “suitable”.

Courts do not have the ability to determine how much money the state is allowed to give public schools; however, America’s system of checks and balances ensures that courts do have the power to determine whether any one state’s legislative body has acted within the framework of its Constitution. In the case of the Shawnee County District Court’s decision last month, the Court ruled that the state’s legislative branch had acted unconstitutionally for failing to provide ‘suitable’ funding to its public schools.

This should have left state legislators feeling pretty embarrassed – after all, the Kansas government already spends over $1bn less on its children every year than neighbouring Missouri. Yet apparently instead of embarrassment, Kansas legislators were merely left seething at being made to look like fools. Consequently, the amendment with which they are now debating doesn’t make them look any less foolish.

In fact, the present language that Senators have placed within the proposed amendment that was advertised as ‘forbidding state courts from interfering in school funding’ may not even accomplish its unconstitutional aim. Although lawmakers are already plotting to reword the proposal, the amendment currently says that ‘the Legislature has the final say on educational funding’; however, the Shawnee Court never argued against that. All the Court said was that, as per the requirement that education be adequately funded, the state Senate is currently underfunding its schools. As the proposed amendment currently makes no effort to remove the words “suitable provision of finance” from the state’s Constitution, any future underfunding by the Kansas government will still be unconstitutional – and with any luck, some other Court will remind them of that soon enough.

Kansas legislators have been made to look like inconsiderate tools by their judiciary branch – yet Senators should be smart enough to know that trying to outlaw the Constitutional framework of checks and balances with which this nation was built upon is hardly a way of fixing that problem. No single branch of government has the power to produce legislation that effectively stops the judicial process, because that’s the sort of tyranny our founding fathers wanted to do away with. In fact, this entire issue could have been swiftly resolved had state Senators merely admitted that they’re grossly underfunding schools and agreed to increase funding. Instead, Kansas lawmakers have given the rest of America one more reason to doubt their intelligence – as well as a simultaneous declaration that Kansans are not fully committed to educating their children.

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