Monday, September 15, 2014

Lawmakers say hard work kept session on track

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 9/6/2013

Consensus at the Capitol was an awesome outcome, Kevin Jones said.

The Wellsville lawmaker reflected Friday on the two-day, no-nonsense special session of the Kansas Legislature, which adjourned Wednesday after two unanimous votes

Consensus at the Capitol was an awesome outcome, Kevin Jones said.

The Wellsville lawmaker reflected Friday on the two-day, no-nonsense special session of the Kansas Legislature, which adjourned Wednesday after two unanimous votes

State Rep. Jones, R-Wellsville, said he was thankful the session — primarily focused on addressing Kansas’ “Hard 50” sentencing law and the approval of several gubernatorial appointments — swiftly concluded without much debate.

 “You don’t want to have to do a special session because of the cost to taxpayers ... but it was mainly the lawyers who were saying it had to be done,” Jones said, referring to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s request for a special session to update the Sunflower State’s sentencing law after a June U.S. Supreme Court decision jeopardized its constitutionality. “So the unanimous [votes] — it was awesome that everyone could [agree.] I’m thankful we didn’t spend three or five days there.”

The Kansas House unanimously agreed to rework the “Hard 50” legislation with a 122-0 vote, which was followed by the Senate’s passage 40-0. All Franklin County lawmakers — state Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, along with state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker — voted in favor of the measure.

The bill, which was adopted Wednesday by the Legislature and signed into law Friday by Gov. Sam Brownback, developed a procedure for juries to make findings upon which a “Hard 50” sentence must be based, allowing the Kansas law to fall within the Constitutional bounds set by the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

State Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said the unanimous votes by both chambers shows careful preparation in drafting the bill.

“I think it was a reflection of the hard work put in by the interim committee and House judiciary committee to come up with a good bill for everyone to consider,” Finch said.

The special session also called for the state Senate to confirm several appointments, including Jim Clark as secretary of administration, Josh Ney as securities commissioner and Caleb Stegall to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

The latter appointment, however, stirred up controversy as Brownback used for the first time a new law — similar to the federal system for picking appeals court judges — that gives him unilateral power to appoint judges that must later be confirmed by the Senate. Stegall, 41, was Brownback’s chief counsel before the appointment. The governor was criticized for refusing to release the names of applicants for the position. The Senate confirmed Stegall 32-8 Wednesday to close the session.

A member of the House Health and Human Services committee, Jones said he thinks the new appointment process — which was approved by the 2013 Kansas Legislature — is fair, adding that critics who are opposed to the measure are motivated more so by their dislike of Brownback.

“I think it’s a good law,” Jones said, acknowledging, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to know the applicants’ [names].”

Finch, an Ottawa attorney, however, previously spoke out against the new appointment process, saying it was undemocratic and lacking transparency.

“I liken this to your spouse comes home with a new car and says, ‘I got the best car on the lot.’ Well, maybe you did, and maybe you didn’t, but I sure would have liked to see what else they had. ... I have a problem with that,” Finch said during an August legislative listening tour in Ottawa. “When you’re attacking the current system as being undemocratic and secretive and you impose a system that’s more secretive and one could argue less democratic, I think that’s a mistake.”

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