Government of Kansas

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politics and government of
Kansas

The government of the U.S. state of Kansas, established by the Kansas Constitution, is a republican democracy modeled after the Federal government of the United States. The state government has three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. Through a system of separation of powers or "checks and balances," each of these branches has some authority to act on its own, some authority to regulate the other two branches, and has some of its own authority, in turn, regulated by the other branches.

The state government is based in Topeka, Kansas.

General principles[edit]

The state government of Kansas is divided into an executive, a legislative and a judicial branch. The Governor, the state's chief executive, has a degree of direct executive power but must share executive power with other state-wide elected officers. The Lieutenant Governor serves as the first-in-line successor to the Governorship should a vacancy occur.

The Legislature comprises the House of Representatives and the Senate. It passes statutes, votes on the budget, and controls the action of the executive through oversight and the power of impeachment. The President of the Kansas Senate presides over the Senate and the Speaker of the House presides over the House of Representatives. Both officers are in line to succeed to the Governorship in the event of a vacancy, behind the Lieutenant Governor.

The independent judiciary is based on the common law system which evolved from use in the British Empire. It is divided into the two courts of last resort, one (the Supreme Court) dealing with civil law and the other (the Court of Appeals) dealing with criminal law. The Court of Impeachment monitors the activities of all state-wide elected officials, including the Justices of the Supreme Court.

The people of the state reserve the right to directly participate in the government by referendum, recall, and ratification.

Constitution[edit]

The Wyandotte Constitution was approved in a referendum by a vote of 10,421 to 5,530 on October 4, 1859. In April 1860, the United States House of Representatives voted 134 to 73 to admit Kansas under the Wyandotte Constitution; however, there was resistance in the United States Senate. As slave states seceded from the Union, their senators left their seats and on January 21, 1861, the Senate passed the Kansas bill.

The admission of Kansas as a free state became effective January 29, 1861. The members of the executive branch are the President and the vice President.

Executive Branch[edit]

The executive branch of government is headed by the Governor of Kansas, who is assisted in managing the executive branch by Cabinet Secretaries appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Kansas Senate. The Lieutenant Governor of Kansas is first in line to succeed to the Governorship in the event of a vacancy. The role the Lieutenant Governor performs in the executive branch is determined by the Governor.

Elected Officials[edit]

Office Current Officer Since Party
Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback January 10, 2011 Republican
Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer January 10, 2011 Republican
Secretary of State Kris Kobach January 10, 2011 Republican
Attorney General Derek Schmidt January 10, 2011 Republican
State Treasurer Ron Estes January 10, 2011 Republican
Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger January 13, 2003 Republican

Governor of Kansas[edit]

Main article: Governor of Kansas

The Governor is both head of state and head of government for Kansas. Under the constitution, the Governor elected to serve a four-year term. The Governor presides over the executive branch, commands the militia of the state, and makes sure that the laws of the state are enforced and that the peace is preserved. The Governor is the State’s chief representative and spokesperson to the other states within the United States, the United States federal government, and all foreign nations. The Governor must sign all bills passed by the Legislature in order for those bills to become law. Should he veto a bill, the Legislature may override his veto with a two-thirds vote.

In certain emergencies the Governor may assume special, comprehensive powers. These powers involve greater police power and near absolute control over state, county, and local agencies and resources. However, in normal times, the Governor may not enact legislation, though he may issue executive orders (when empowered to do so by the Legislature) which are binding throughout the State. Such executive order do not have the force of law and may only be issued when related directly to the Governor's duties. Of course, if the Legislature is controlled by his political party, the Governor may strongly suggest the adoption of certain legislation, or request other executive officers to take such actions as the Governor sees fit.

In order to be elected Governor, any gubernatorial candidate is required to obtain a state-wide plurality of all votes cast in their election. Given the dominance of the two-party system in Kansas (between the Democrats and the Republicans), the plurality is often a majority as well. However, in case the event that two or more candidates have an equal number of votes, the Legislature, by joint ballot, elects one of those candidates Governor.

The constitution names the Governor the state's chief magistrate and vested in him the supreme executive power. As a consequence, the Governor is the preeminent figure in Kansas politics. Though he shares power with many other executive officers, in the event of a vacancy anywhere in the executive branch, he appoints their successor. The Governor appoints the heads of most all state departments and agencies as well as the members of most state commissioners and boards. However, these appointment do require Senate approval. Some serve at his pleasure while others serve fixed terms.

Lieutenant Governor[edit]

The Lieutenant Governor is the second highest official in the Kansas government and the first in line to succeed to the Governorship in the event of a vacancy. Elected for a four-year term that runs concurrent with that of the Governor. In the absence of the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor assumes all powers and duties of office of Governor. However, as long as the Governor remains in the state and is capable of discharging his duties as Governor

Legislative Branch[edit]

Main article: Kansas Legislature
The Kansas Legislature meets in the Kansas State Capitol.

The Kansas Legislature, making up the legislative branch, consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. All of the State’s legislative authority is vest within the Legislature. The most important of these powers are the powers to levy and collect taxes, borrow money, raise and maintain the militia of the State. The constitution grants the Legislature the authority to legislate on all rightful subjects of legislation.

The Legislature meets normally once a year. Meetings begin in January and usually will last for a period of 90 days. Under special circumstances, the Governor can call special sessions. The Governor has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of the Legislature. All acts of the Legislature must be approved by a majority in both houses and signed by the Governor to be enacted into law. However, should the Governor veto the bill, the Legislature, by a two-third vote in both houses, may over turn the Governor's veto and the bill be enacted into law without the Governor's signature. On appropriations bills, however, the Governor has a line-item veto.

Senate[edit]

Main article: Kansas Senate

The Senate is the upper house of the Legislature with its 40 seats divided equally among the state’s 40 senatorial districts. The State Senators serve a four-year staggered term, with half of the Senate up for reelection every even numbered year. The presiding officer in the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor in their role as President of the Senate. However, the Lieutenant Governor does not normally preside, so in place of the Lieutenant Governor is President of the Kansas Senate, who is third in line to succeed the Governor in the event of the his removal from office.

House of Representatives[edit]

The House of Representatives is the lower house of the Legislature with its 125 seats divided proportionally according to each county’s population. Each member serves for a two-year term with the entire House up for reelection every even numbered year. The presiding officer in the House is the Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, who is fourth in line to succeed the Governor after the Lieutenant Governor and President of the Senate.

All bills for raising revenue may only originate in the House of Representatives though the Senate may alter and amend them as the body sees fit.

Judicial Branch[edit]

The judicial system of Kansas is the branch of the Kansas state government that interprets the state’s laws and constitution. Headed by the Supreme Court, the judiciary consists of two courts of last resort, courts of general jurisdiction, and courts of limited jurisdiction. Also, the Kansas judiciary contains two independent courts.

All judges and justices requiring appointment are appointed by the Governor. Candidates must first go through a nominating process through the Kansas Judicial Nominating Commission, which selects three candidates to submit to the Governor for a single selection to the office.

The Supreme Court[edit]

Main article: Kansas Supreme Court

The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice, and seven Associate Justices who are appointed by the Governor from a list of three judges submitted by the Judicial Nomination Commission. Justices are also ratified by the electorate at the next general election following their appointment and at the end of each six-year term. Justices serve until they resign or fail to be retained in office. The Supreme Court's decisions are binding on all lower state courts.

The Court has original jurisdiction have general superintendent control over all inferior courts in the judiciary and all agencies, commissions and boards exercising power under the constitution. The Court has appellate jurisdiction co-extensive with that of the state’s borders on all cases “at law and in equity” except criminal cases, in which the Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. If in any event there is any conflict in determining which court has jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is granted the power to determine which court has jurisdiction, with not appeal from the Court’s determination.

The Supreme Court is headquartered in the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka, Kansas and hears oral arguments each year.

The Supreme Court supervises the lower courts through the Administrative Office of the Courts, and also supervises Kansas's legal profession through the Kansas Bar Association. All lawyer admissions and disbarments are done through recommendations of the Association, which are then routinely ratified by the Supreme Court. The Association has 6,900 members, including lawyers, judges, law students, and paralegals.

Four of the seven justices are required to affair, modify, or overturn any ruling of any lower court. Once the Court has reached a decision, one justice is selected to write the Court’s opinion. Once published, the opinion becomes the controlling factor in the state’s law surrounding the issue(s) it addresses. This is known as stare decisis.

The justice who has the longest continuous service is designated by the Kansas Constitution as the chief justice, unless he or she declines or resigns the position. The Chief Justice of Kansas is responsible for the administration of all courts in the Kansas Judiciary and establishes rules for all courts to follow. The Chief Justice also oversees all practicing attorneys in the State.

County government[edit]

The county is the primary administrative division of Kansas. They are bodies politic and corporate. There are one hundred and five counties in the state. Counties contain a number of towns and cities as well as all unincorporated land in the state. Every county has a county seat, often a populous or centrally located city or town, where the county government is headquartered.

In traditional midwest fashion, counties in Kansas possess a moderate scope of power. As extensions of the state government, counties are primarily administrative bodies which possess executive and limited judicial powers, but not legislative powers. Their primary responsibilities are related to managing, planning and governing all unincorporated land within their borders. These include overall planning, police service, as well as some legal services. The counties keep records of deaths, births, marriages, divorces, property ownership, and court activities within the county. The counties must also maintain a court system, law enforcement, road and bridge construction, and voter registration.

As extensions of the state government, the counties are responsible for six major services:

  • Maintaining the peace and protecting life and property
  • Assessing and collecting taxes to operate the county
  • Compile, record, and preserve public records essential to maintaining individual property rights
  • Building and maintain public roads, highways, and bridges
  • Providing facilities for courts and the administration of justice through the District Court system
  • Caring for the needy and indigent, orphaned children, and the aged

Each county government is composed of eight elected officials and a District Attorney. All county officials serve four-year terms beginning on the first Monday in January following their election.

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