TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas' attorney general is warning legislators that the state faces potential lawsuits and more than $1.2 million in costs because of laws enacted this year, including a pro-gun policy aimed at the federal government and a sweeping anti-abortion measure declaring that life begins “at fertilization.”
The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday reviewed requests from Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office to boost its budget during the two-year period beginning in July to cover potential litigation costs. The committee is examining spending proposals because legislators return May 8 from their annual spring break to wrap up business for the year.
Schmidt's office said it needs up to $500,000 to defend the anti-abortion law, which blocks tax breaks for abortion providers, prohibits them from furnishing materials or instructors for public school sex education classes and bans abortions solely because of the baby's sex.
It takes effect in July. The language about when life begins worries some abortion rights groups, though abortion opponents see the language only as statement of principle, not an attempt to prevent the termination of pregnancies.
The attorney general's office already has spent nearly $759,000 on outside attorneys' services in defending anti-abortion laws enacted in 2011.
Schmidt's office also sees potential litigation over the new gun law, which took effect Thursday and declares the federal government has no power to regulate firearms, ammunition and accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. The new law also makes it a felony for a federal agent to attempt to regulate such items.
In addition, Schmidt anticipates potential court challenges to two laws taking effect in July. One will require drug testing for some public assistance recipients, while another will prohibit public employee unions from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities.
The attorney general's spokesman did not immediately return telephone messages Thursday seeking comment, but the Legislature's staff detailed Schmidt's proposals in a memo for lawmakers. Senate committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said any law enacted by the state can face a court challenge.
“He's just trying to anticipate potential activity,” Masterson said. “That's not a legitimate argument not to pass the law.” But critics of the new laws noted that questions about whether they'd result in expensive legal disputes arose during legislative debates.
“We're going to have to pay for it,” said Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
Schmidt's requests anticipate that a defense of the new anti-abortion law would inspire the most expensive potential litigation.
Abortion rights supporters challenged 2011 laws restricting private health insurance coverage for elective abortions, imposing new health and safety rules specifically for abortion providers and denying the state's share of federal family planning dollars for non-abortion services to Planned Parenthood. The insurance law was upheld, but the other cases are pending in federal and state courts.
Abortion rights supporters have labeled new anti-abortion law's tax provisions discriminatory and argued that the language on life beginning at fertilization could be used to harass providers.
“I don't think taxpayers want their money to go to defend unconstitutional laws,” said Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women's state chapter. “It's a waste of money that could be going to social services, education, jobs – all the things Kansans care about more than abortion politics.”
But Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, said this year's law, like previous ones, was drafted to withstand legal challenges. She said the abortion industry and its allies turn to the courts simply to delay enforcement.
“These laws are worth defending,” Culp said. “It wouldn't cost a cent if these people didn't sue.”
The new gun-rights law declares that the “Kansas-only” guns, ammunition and accessories aren't in interstate commerce, which is regulated by the federal government under the U.S. Constitution. Some legal experts have doubted it would pass constitutional muster.
Schmidt's office is anticipating $225,000 in potential legal costs in defending the law, though he's said he's not sure how a challenge would arise, absent gun-control efforts by the federal government.
The attorney general estimates that defending the drug testing and paycheck deduction laws would cost up to $250,000 each over the next two years.