Kansas Supreme Court set for high-stakes oral argument on legislative, congressional maps

Justices obliged to review state House, Senate maps; U.S. House map is on appeal

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — League of Women Voters co-president Martha Pint wants the Kansas Supreme Court to declare new district boundary maps for the Legislature’s House and Senate districts a violation of the Kansas Constitution.

Pint, in preparation of the Supreme Court’s oral argument Monday on the maps, said the Legislature allocated 125 House districts and 40 Senate districts in ways that intentionally fractured neighborhoods with high racial and ethnic minorities and purposefully weakened minority voting strength in Wichita, Olathe, Leavenworth and Kansas City, Kansas.

She said state lawmakers also violated redistricting guidelines while constructing maps based on Kansas population shifts chronicled in the 2020 U.S. Census.

“These maps do not adhere to the principles adopted and we ask the Kansas Supreme Court to consider the process behind the creation of the maps as integral to the final product,” Pint said. “Truly representative districts are vital at all levels of government and Kansans deserve a fair process.”

Under the state Constitution, the Legislature must produce every 10 years updated maps for the Kansas House, Kansas Senate, Kansas Board of Education as well as the state’s four U.S. House districts.

The Kansas Supreme Court will review state House and Senate maps contained in Senate Bill 563 in response to a petition filed April 25 by Attorney General Derek Schmidt. The Supreme Court is required to issue an opinion on the legislative maps within 30 days of Schmidt’s initial filing.

Schmidt, who is a candidate for governor, recommended the Supreme Court validate the legislative maps. The candidate filing deadline is typically June 1, but the court’s rejection of the maps could force a postponement to buy time for the Legislature to redraw the maps or take other legal action. The statewide primary election is Aug. 2.

Schmidt filed a response to written comments on legislative maps submitted to the Supreme Court from “any interested person.” In Schmidt’s rebuttal submitted to the Supreme Court, the attorney general dismissed some criticism as “irrelevant” or unworthy of a reply.

He did answer complaints raised about the Legislature’s alleged political gerrymandering, dilution of minority voting and targeting of incumbents.

“Anyone who believes a redistricting map is unfair or dissatisfying in some respect can claim gerrymandering, but there is no legal standard to measure such claims,” Schmidt said. “Entertaining political gerrymandering claims would require this court to substitute its political judgment for that of the Legislature and plunge this court into a political morass.”

Schmidt said individuals claiming impermissible voter dilution along racial lines provided “no evidence” to the Supreme Court. He said redistricting inevitably had political consequences, including pitting incumbents against each other. One such person, Democratic Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City was placed in a new district where he’d have to run in 2024 against incumbent Republican Sen. Beverly Gossage of Eudora. Holland filed a brief challenging the Senate map.

Other comments submitted to the Supreme Court in objection to the House and Senate maps delved into the Legislature’s bipartisan public listening tour in 2021, the Legislature’s guidelines for mapping decisions, compactness of new legislative districts and the undermining of communities of interest.

Schmidt said no legal deficiency was identified in terms of the Legislature’s tour of more than a dozen communities to gather public input. Redistricting guidelines were the work of an “advisory group” and the Legislature wasn’t required to adhere to any of those ideas, he said.

“The guidelines are not law,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt argued the Supreme Court had no role in reviewing House and Senate maps in terms of splitting communities of economic, political, social or geographic interest. Supreme Court precedent, he said, indicated “the fact that someone who may have drawn different lines does not render a map invalid.”

In addition to oral argument Monday on state House and Senate maps, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear argument in the attorney general’s appeal of a Wyandotte County District Court judge’s ruling that the congressional map was unconstitutional.

Twenty people filed lawsuits challenging the congressional map. Some objected to shifting half of Wyandotte County out of the metropolitan 3rd District and placing it in the 2nd District extending from Nebraska to Oklahoma. The map pulled Lawrence out of the 2nd District and inserted it into the rural 1st District that crosses the state to the Colorado border.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert set argument on the Legislature’s reapportionment of state Senate and House districts for 9 a.m. Monday and argument on the congressional map at 1:30 p.m. Monday. The sessions will be livestreamed on www.youtube.com/kansassupremecourt.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/05/15/kansas-supreme-court-set-for-high-stakes-oral-argument-on-legislative-congressional-maps/

Kelly uses veto authority to reject infectious disease, Medicaid and election bills

Governor’s arguments hinge on public health, transparency and separation of powers

by Tim Carpenter and Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill allowing autonomous vehicles to operate on Kansas roads and vetoed legislation restricting public health officials’ response to all infectious disease outbreaks, a mandate imposing a no-bid contract for Medicaid services and limitations on the executive branch’s enforcement of election law.

Gov. Kelly began by vetoing Senate Bill 34, which was adopted during a late-night session of the Legislature and targeted mask mandates, quarantine orders and vaccination requirements that some Republican lawmakers believed undermined individual liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t passed by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, which would be the threshold required to override a veto.

The Democratic governor said she opposed vaccine passports and COVID-19 vaccination mandates, but couldn’t accept the “one-size-fits-all approach” for all infectious diseases erupting in Kansas. For example, she said, the bill would make it more difficult for the Kansas agricultural sector to fight the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

“As a result,” she said, “this legislation creates significant safety concerns for workers, for employers, for the economy and for all Kansans. Schools could not adequately respond to an outbreak of measles in a classroom, and manufacturing facilities could not respond to a tuberculosis outbreak.”

Gov. Kelly vetoed House Bill 2387 that required her administration to halt development of an update to the state’s $3.9 billion Medicaid contracts with managed care companies coordinating services to elderly and disabled Kansans. She said a transparent, competitive bidding process was key to making certain contracts with the MCO companies provided the most value to Kansas taxpayers.

During the 2022 legislative session, Republicans sought to delay reworking KanCare contracts until after the November election in hopes a Republican was elected governor. GOP lawmakers who pushed the bill refused to identify individuals, companies or organizations in support of the delay, preferring to keep that information confidential. In addition, there was no guarantee federal regulators would approve of Kansas extending contracts into 2023.

“The language included in HB 2387 regarding the current MCO contracts is a product of closed-door dealings to push legislation that did not have a single proponent,” Gov. Kelly said. “There is little question that this effort is fraught with legal issues and jeopardizes our Medicaid program.”

This bill wasn’t approved by the House and Senate with the two-thirds margin indicating a veto override would be a certainty.

“We must favor transparency and fair competition over attempts to re-insert corruption into the state contracting process,” the governor said.

Gov. Kelly is seeking re-election in November, and her likely GOP opponent is Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

In addition, Gov. Kelly rejected House Bill 2252 that forbid the executive branch, including the governor, secretary of state or attorney general, from entering into agreements to enforce election law. She said the bill was an overreach into the executive branch’s constitutional duties, but this bill was supported by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.

“If passed, it would also lead to costly litigation at the expense of Kansas taxpayers,” she said.

Rep. Tatum Lee, a Ness City Republican, objected to the veto of the election bill and the COVID-19 legislation in a Facebook post shortly after the veto announcement. She called on House and Senate leadership to help override the vetoes when the Legislature returns to Topeka later this month.

“The war is real you all. We are fighting for the soul of our nation,” Lee said . “Ryckman, Hawkins, Finch in the House and Masterson in the Senate. Do they have the courage to fight back? Do they have the courage to stand?”

Gov. Kelly said she signed Senate Bill 313 which provided for the use and regulation of autonomous motor vehicles and established the Autonomous Vehicle Advisory Committee.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
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Kansas governor signs law legalizing sports betting

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — After years of waiting, Kansans will soon be able to legally wager on sporting events under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. Laura Kelly.

Senate Bill 84 allows for the four state-owned casinos to use digital or in-person avenues to engage in the business of sports betting. The casinos, established under the control of the Kansas Lottery, can create and operate sportsbooks or partner with up to three online betting operators each to launch mobile platforms.

Native American tribes can negotiate a new or updated gaming compact regarding sports wagering.

“Legalizing sports betting will bring more revenue to our state and grow our economy,” Gov. Kelly said. “This is another mechanism that casinos, restaurants, and other entertainment venues can now utilize to attract Kansans to their establishments.”

The long-sought law gained approval 73 to 49 in the House, and, in the waning hours of the veto session, the Senate followed suit 21 to 13.

The Kansas Lottery and the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission will share oversight of sports wagering. Betters on the casinos’ platforms will have to be physically located in Kansas to bet and must be 21 years or older.

There is some hope the system could be set up in time for the NFL and college football seasons, but its more likely to be place in January 2023.

Opponents of legalizing this form of gambling when the industry has contributed to 65,000 problem gamblers in Kansas. They argued the 10% state tax on sports gambling generating $1 million to $5 million in annual revenue was not enough financial incentive to legalize the activity and risk more trouble with this potential addiction.

The state-affiliated casinos stand to make $9 million to $45 million annually on sportsbooks.

“I was excited to pass sports wagering in Kansas, it’s something that Kansans are already doing, and it will bring additional tax revenue to our state to help with our needs,” said Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican and chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. “My constituents have pushed for this legislation for years, and now, the next time we have a significant sporting event in our state, Kansans will be able to bet on their hometown team.”

Eighty percent of state revenue from legal gambling on sports will go into a Kansas Department of Commerce fund to be used to support the establishment of a professional sports facility in Kansas, to lure a team such as the Kansas City Chiefs across state lines.

Casinos can enter agreements with professional sports franchises and place kiosks at a team’s facility to allow fans to place bets. They can also partner with 50 businesses and entities, one-fifth of which must be nonprofit organizations.

“We have heard from our constituents for years about the need for a sports wagering program here in Kansas, both for the value it will bring to their lives and for the revenues it will generate for our state,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. “I’m proud to have contributed to this package that will do just that and revitalize my community by creating jobs in Wichita.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/05/12/kansas-governor-signs-law-legalizes-sports-betting/