Special session will require action on Brownback nominee
By JOHN HANNA
AP Political Writer
TOPEKA -- The Kansas Senate is legally required to consider Gov. Sam Brownback's nominee for a new Court of Appeals judgeship and other appointees during a special session called for September, Majority Leader Terry Bruce said Monday.
Bruce acknowledged that the need to vote on as many as 19 Brownback appointees will complicate legislative leaders' attempts to keep the focus of the special session narrow. Brownback called the session for Sept. 3 to rewrite the state's "Hard 50" criminal sentencing law following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that raised questions about its constitutionality.
The Senate majority leader told The Associated Press that the list of appointees that must be considered under state laws include the yet-to-be-named Court of Appeals judges and three new members of the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the higher education system.
"It's something that we definitely weren't anticipating," said Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican.
Brownback has until Aug. 29 to nominate the new judge for the Court of Appeals, the state's second-highest court. Under the court-appointments law, absent the special session, the Senate would have 20 days after the Legislature's next regular session convenes in January to vote on the appointment.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, an Independence Republican, had proposed having a daylong hearing on the Court of Appeals nominee in October or November. Legislative leaders already had planned to meet Monday afternoon to consider what committees will meet and what issues will be studied during the summer and fall.
The Republican governor and leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature had hoped to limit the special session only to revising the "Hard 50" law and wrap up lawmakers' business in a few days.
The "Hard 50" law has allowed judges to sentence defendants convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder to life in prison without the chance of parole for 50 years. Judges weigh whether aggravating factors in each case -- such as whether the defendant tortured a victim or shot into a crowd -- warrant the "Hard 50" or life in prison with parole eligibility in 25 years.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month in a Virginia case that juries, not judges, must consider whether the facts in a case trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, pushed for a special session, and his efforts had bipartisan support from legislators and prosecutors and the strong backing of law enforcement groups.