By Lawrence Journal-World, Sept. 8
The best news from the just-completed special session of the Kansas Legislature is that it is over. The fact that lawmakers were able to complete their business in just two days is worthy of thanks from taxpayers who were footing the bill for the session.
Other aspects of the rare special session will continue to trigger discussion. The stated justification for the session was the need to fix the state’s “Hard 50” sentencing law. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling found a Virginia law that is similar to the one in Kansas unconstitutional because it gave judges the authority to determine whether aggravating factors in a murder case justify a sentence of 50 years with no possibility of parole. Following the ruling, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Gov. Sam Brownback saw an urgent public safety need to revise the Kansas law to prevent inmates sentenced under that law from being released too soon.
Thanks to a pre-session hearing on the bill by a joint legislative committee, the revisions were able to gain quick, unanimous approval from both the Kansas House and Senate.
Lawmakers also quickly dealt with a number of appointments made by Brownback since the end of the regular legislative session. Key among those was the appointment of Caleb Stegall to the Kansas Court of Appeals. Some Kansans may not have been happy with the fast track this appointment traveled — from the governor’s announcement to Senate confirmation in just two weeks — but it’s unlikely that additional time would have altered the outcome in the appointment. Regardless of whether observers think Stegall was the best candidate for the court, his close political ties to Brownback and the closed nature of the new court nomination process will continue to draw discussion across the state.
One issue that didn’t garner much attention from legislators during the special session was the effort by some Wichita lawmakers to deal with problems related to a new law requiring people to prove they are U.S. citizens when registering to vote in Kansas for the first time. The lawmakers contended that the voter registration law was as much in need of fixing as the Hard 50 law, but their effort to amend a voter measure into that law was ruled out of order. The 15,000 voter registration forms currently on hold and awaiting proof of citizenship documentation seem to confirm this law also is not in working order and should be of continuing concern to lawmakers and other Kansas residents.
Sometimes less is more. Whether or not they are convinced that the special session was justified or agree with the actions legislators took, Kansans at least can be grateful that the session lasted just two days and didn’t result in any hasty action on additional measures without the deliberation they deserve.