Huffing and puffing in the legislatures
The Kansas City Star
Lawyers are people, too
Say this for Kansas legislators: They hit the ground running.
The session had barely convened before lawmakers were in committee hearings on things like co-opting the state’s judiciary.
Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative legislators have made no secret of their unhappiness with the way judges are selected. It irks them that a nominating commission, which screens candidates and recommends a panel of finalists, has five lawyers selected by members of the state bar association and only four members selected by the governor.
In his State of the State address this week, Brownback said Kansas is “the only state that allows a special interest group to control the process of choosing who will be our appellate judges.”
Actually, 10 other states, including Missouri, have nominating commissions dominated by lawyers.
But no matter. “That is not as it should be,” he said. “Here, the people rule.”
For the moment, the people may disagree. A poll from Justice at Stake, a Washington, D.C., group, found that 61 percent of respondents favored the current system over Brownback’s preference, which is to have the governor nominate statewide judges, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
But it’s early. The Legislature can — and almost surely will — change the way appeals court judges are selected. However, changes in the selection of state Supreme Court justices must be put up to a public vote. Should that happen, expect to see the governor’s political apparatus kick into high gear.
Still blowin’ smoke
The smoke-filled room survives in the Missouri Capitol, but there will be fewer this session.
Democrats again failed to convince the House Rules Committee to join the 21st century and ban smoking in legislators’ offices. So they issued a prohibition for their own caucus.
As it now stands, smoking in the Capitol is off-limits for the public, the governor and members of his staff, and Democratic legislators. But it’s still OK for Republican lawmakers, who have said they are reluctant to step outside for smoking breaks because it might impair their, um, productivity.
In Missouri, even the quality of office air is a partisan issue.
Eyes off the farms
Missouri Republicans seem especially protective of agriculture this year.
Rep. Casey Guernsey, of Bethany, is sponsoring a bill that, in part, would prohibit drones from conducting surveillance of farms without the owners’ permission.
Rep. Jason Smith, of Salem, the House speaker pro tem, warned in a speech that “out of state radicals” have launched an assault on the “proud Missouri traditions of farming, hunting and fishing.”
Now some lawmakers are proposing a constitutional amendment that would require any initiative petition related to crop production, livestock or other “agriculturally related topics” to be approved by a four-sevenths majority of votes, rather than the simple majority required for other initiatives.
Some of this is a reaction to the “puppy mill” initiative that Missouri voters approved in 2010, only to see it dismantled by the legislature. And some of this is simply to deter a debate on what constitutes good public policy when it comes to farming and livestock production.
Carving out particular industries for special treatment is a bad idea.
Kansas Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, has decreed that members of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which he chairs, may not use their cell phones for texting, tweeting and Facebook interactions during meetings. He would also prefer they not use social media on their state-issued laptops.
Too distracting, Siegfried said. Legislators should be listening to testimony, not chatting on Facebook.
We see his point. Kansans come from far and wide to testify to legislative committees, and it’s rather deflating to have most of the committee members engrossed in their screens. Leave the tweeting to the audience.