Hon. Lawton Nuss
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas courts may be closing down for five days in the next couple of months.
A budget impasse in the Kansas legislature has put the state court system's payroll in peril.
"It is now my duty to tell Kansans that their courts will be closed and our court employees will be sent home without pay for five days," Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss announced Wednesday morning. At a press conference at the Kansas Judicial Center, he said district and appellate courts statewide are set to close on April 13th and 27th, May 11th and 25th, and June 8th.
Kansas legislators left for spring break before they could agree on supplemental appropriation for the judicial branch of government.
"[...] we do not have enough money to finish out our fiscal year and to fully meet payroll for our more than 1500 employees," he said.
Justice Nuss had requested $1.4 million in extra funding from legislators, to make up for an unexpected decrease in court case filing fees.
In a letter to key lawmakers dated February 29, he warned of the consequences of not approving the request by March 31.
Lawmakers initially agreed but last Friday failed to approve the request due to an impasse over other unrelated issues included in the same budget bill
House Speaker Mike O'Neal in a statement said, "The court's decision to furlough, due to budget restraints is, according to our budget staff, unnecessary."
He suggested using alternative court funds until lawmakers return to the negotiating table later on April 25.
Justice Nuss says alternative court funds are limited and furloughs will go on until the legislature acts.
"We simply cannot be assured that the money will come from the legislature," he said. "What many people thought would be a sure thing last Friday, turned out to be not a sure thing."
Nuss said the furlough dates needed to be implemented beginning with April 13, to allow the judicial branch to spread out the furlough days over the remaining pay periods in the current fiscal year.
Nuss called it "the least lousy option" he had.
"This has the least impact on our employees. It spreads out the financial pain over five different pay periods. That is for every pay period remaining in this fiscal year," he said.
The loss of pay equates to 10 percent per pay period, he said.
Chief Judge Nancy Parrish at the Shawnee County District Court said the criminal justice system will suffer because of the funding delay.
"I worry about our criminal case load," she said.
"I've got jury trials set on days that are scheduled to be furlough dates. I'm still reeling from the news and trying to figure out how we'll handle the rescheduling of all the cases."
Even if lawmakers end up funding the full request when they return, workers will not be able to recover back pay from the April 13 furlough date.