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Kansas Legislature Won't Stick Kobach With Contempt Bill After All

Secretary of State Kris Kobach. (Kansas News Service file photo)

Kansas lawmakers on Tuesday dropped an effort to require Secretary of State Kris Kobach to pay a contempt of court fine with his own money, rather than state dollars.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson held Kobach in contempt for failing to follow her 2016 order to fully register and notify voters he had blocked for not providing proof of citizenship.

Robinson issued the contempt citation at the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Kansans challenging the state’s strict voter registration laws.

Robinson didn’t impose a fine, but ordered Kobach to pay the ACLU’s attorney fees. That figure is still being calculated.

Republican Rep. Russ Jennings pushed for the provision in the House version of the state budget. While he didn’t name Kobach specifically, the amendment was clearly aimed at the Republican secretary of state and candidate for governor. Senators included no such provision in their version of the spending plan.

The provision was taken out of the budget during negotiations between the House and Senate, but Jennings said lawmakers still sent a message.

“I would think an elected official at that level with state office would take it upon themselves to accept responsibility and do the right thing,” Jennings said. “And the right thing to me is they pay the bill, not the taxpayers.”

The provision was removed after Kobach’s staff said it was illegal in a letter to state lawmakers. His staff had also said the office was found in contempt, not Kobach personally.

Still, Kobach was listed as a defendant in the case and was criticized by the judge in her ruling.

“The Court is troubled by Defendant’s failure to take responsibility for violating this Court’s orders,” she wrote, “and for failing to ensure compliance over an issue that he explicitly represented to the Court had been accomplished.”

Kobach’s office has said he’ll appeal the contempt of court finding.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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