The individual the Legislative Coordinating Council chose on Friday to represent the Kansas Legislature in legal matters pertaining to the school finance bill and the Kansas Supreme Court is familiar with both school funding and the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, that familiarity did not always serve the Legislature or Kansas school children well.
In a 5-2 vote on party lines, the Legislative Coordinating Council hired former state Sen. Jeff King of Independence to help lawmakers pass a school funding bill that also passes muster with the Supreme Court. Justices had ruled the last school finance law unconstitutional. Its primary author was then-Sen. King, a lawyer who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also advocated bills that would have curtailed the Supreme Court’s authority, independence and funding.
Saying he had become disillusioned with politics in Topeka, then-Sen. King, who rose to become Senate vice president, did not seek re-election last year. He’s back in the thick of Statehouse politics now, and he’ll be paid $50,000 for his experience and advice.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita are the only two Democrats on the LCC. Predictably — and understandably — they took issue with the hiring of Mr. King. They objected to his views on school funding and sometimes frosty relationship with the Supreme Court. Said Rep. Ward: “We’ve got several instances of conflict, changing the way the court is appointed, changing the way the court does its business.”
Of particular offense was a “nonseverability” clause written into a school funding bill that then-Sen. King drafted. It limited the Supreme Court’s authority and asserted that if any part of the bill were declared unconstitutional, all other parts of the legislation, including funding for the courts, would be voided. Not surprisingly, the courts rejected that as unconstitutional legislative overreach.
Mr. King’s experiences with school funding and the Supreme Court as a state senator have hopefully taught him what won’t work. Despite our misgivings on his hiring, he has the opportunity to serve Kansans better as an attorney advising lawmakers than he did as a leader in what at the time was a more intensely partisan environment than it is now. We hope he makes the most of it.