Sunday, February 6, 2011

Governor Brownback issues an ERO removing the independence of the Kansas Human Rights Commission

EROs (Executive Reorganization Orders) are provided for in the Kansas Constitution. They enable a Governor to transfer, abolish, consolidate, or coordinate agencies and functions within the executive branch of state government. An ERO becomes effective July 1 following its transmittal to the Legislature, unless within 60 calendar days either the Senate or the House adopts a resolution disapproving the ERO. After an ERO takes effect, it becomes like statute and the Legislature then has the option of amending or repealing an ERO in the same way it would amend any other legislation.

This year, in response to the looming budget issues, Governor Sam Brownback issued a number of ERO's that would eliminate or consolidate State Agencies. While no one could argue that a $550,000,000.00 dollar shortfall would not require significant reorganization, one ERO in particular will have a negative impact on the community that outweighs any potential cost savings.

Governor Brownback issued an ERO that eliminating several positions at the Kansas Human Rights Commission, and moving their investigations under the Attorney General's Office. While the move is planned to save $200,000.00, the real cost to citizens is the loss of the ONLY independent investigative body with statutory enforcement power in the State of Kansas. Now, as a consequence, persons wishing to file a complaint against a State Agency would have to file those complaints with the agency's Attorney of Record! This will remove any independent investigative authority, which is provided by statute, and will replace it with a system where the State will investigate and police itself.

We, as a body, oppose this ERO and we call upon Governor Brownback to rescind it, or the Legislature to block it through passage of a resolution, or to repeal it through the Legislative process.

I was recently copied in on a letter written by retired KHRC Chairman Emeritus James Butler regarding this particular ERO. I am posting it here with his permission...

Dear Senator Reitz:

I served the State of Kansas for many years as Chairman and Commissioner to the Kansas Human Rights Commission, from 1979 to 2005, when I retired as the Chairman. During my tenure, I served under five governors: former Governors John Carlin, Mike Hayden, Joan Finney, Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius.

I was informed recently that Governor Brownback made a proposal for the Kansas Human Rights Commission's fiscal year 2012 budget to transfer the Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC) to the Kansas Attorney General's office for operation. I was shocked when I read the proposal and I still am because the office of Attorney General is an elected office and, for the first time in the history of the Commission, the Commission would be under the direction of an elected state office and political influence, subject to whatever bias may exist at any particular time. This move would eliminate 58 years of independent decision making in the area of civil rights in the State of Kansas.

The history of the KHRC shows that this is a radical move. Since its establishment in 1953 and through the years, the Kansas Act Against Discrimination through K.S.A. 44-1003 has mandated that a commission direct and govern the KHRC, and not the governor, or any elective office, which might be subject to political influence and conflicts of interest in an area which could give rise to such issues. The Kansas Act Against Discrimination (KAAD) sets up a system of checks and balances in the selection of each Commissioner to establish the independence of the decision making process of the KHRC. The KAAD dictates how each memeber of the Commission is chosen or appointed by the Governor (the executive branch), but that selection must be confirmed by the Senate (the legislative branch). K.S.A. 44-1003 mandates that no more than four (4) members of the commission can be from the same political party and this is another recognition that political influence is an inherent issue in the decision making process of the KHRC. Governor Brownback's recommendation eliminates the Commission in favor of the Attorney General or his designee acting as the final decision maker in civil rights cases, which will be a first in Kansas government.

The rationale for the recommendation is saving money and efficiency in government, but the KHRC has been the most efficient and cost effective operation in Kansas government for the past few years. The Commission has been very prudent in spending money, not having excessive travel to national conferences and organizations, little on-site travel relying on telephonic, email and correspondence to obtain information from complainants and businesses. If the object is to save $231,000, there are other ways to save that amount of money without radically changing the structure of the KHRC. Furthermore, nothing is gained by moving into the Attorney General's office because the KHRC already has subpoena enforcement powers and an attorney who handles the legal issues.

This move would result in nullification of both the Commission's independence and its effectiveness in the enforcement of civil rights in the State of Kansas.

I strongly urge you to oppose this ill-conceived proposal and urge others under your influence to oppose same. Thank you.

James E. Butler
Chairman Emeritus, Retired, KHRC

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