TOPEKA — Future furloughs for state court employees across the state could be staved off now that the House Appropriations Committee has signaled its commitment, again, that it will give the courts more than $1 million to make up for shortfalls this fiscal year.
Kim Fowler, the judicial branch fiscal officer, said today that Supreme Court Justices would likely be inclined to call off future furloughs, including one slated for next Friday, now that the House Appropriations Committee has tried to make it clear that it will give $1.1 million to the court system. But it will be up to the Justices to decide.
That was about the only bright spot during about a half hour heated exchange between state representatives and Fowler.
Republican and Democrat representatives repeatedly questioned Folwer about Chief Justice Lawton Nuss’s decision to order five furlough days for court employees statewide.
Wichita Republican Rep. Joe McLeland asked why the courts believed the funding was in question when both the House and Senate had agreed — though not formally — on the $1.4 million required to keep the courts open.
“I just really question why that decision was made,” he said.
Fowler said the courts had no indication that the House and Senate would reach an agreement after their budget meltdown.
Nuss had warned lawmakers that if they didn’t agree on a supplemental budget to fund courts through July 1 that he would have to order furloughs. After House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Rhoades, R-Newton, refused to sign an agreement with the Senate at the end of March because of a disagreement about school funding, the courts money was called into question. Nuss ordered the furloughs saying he had no assurance that the legislature would approve the money when they returned from their break.
Rhoades said that he’s sorry about the communication between the legislature and the courts. But he said there’s nothing different about the commitment lawmakers had indicated last month from the one they agreed to today.
“Frankly, we’ve already taken the public hit,” he said.
One court furlough day already occurred April 13. Others are slated for April 27, May 11, 25 and June 8. Those furloughs affect nearly all court employees, but not judges and some key personnel who may have to deal with emergency court orders.