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Kansas Government

State Government

The state constitution was adopted in 1859 and proclaimed Kansas a free state. Kansas became the 34th state of the United States on January 29, 1861. Kansas is represented in the United States Congress by two senators and four representatives. The state capital is Topeka. As you will see, the Civil War (1861-1865) and the feelings of Kansans about slavery heavily influenced the early years of statehood.

The state government is divided into three branches: the legislative, the executive and the judicial. This provides a system of checks and balances which prevents any one branch from controlling the government.

The State Capitol Building in Topeka

The legislative branch of the government makes the laws for the state. The state legislature is made up of two houses: the House of Representatives with 125 members and the Senate with 40 members. Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms. Senators are elected for four-year terms. The political party that has a majority of members elects a leader of each house. Bills are proposed laws that are introduced in the legislature by any senator or representative. For a Bill to become a law, both houses must pass it by a simple majority and the Governor must sign it. The Governor can veto a Bill by refusing to sign it. The legislature can override the veto by a two-thirds vote of both houses.

The executive branch of government provides services to the citizens of the state. Elected state officials include the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and the State Board of Education. All of these officials are elected to four-year terms. The Governor is the leader of the executive branch and appoints the department heads of the state agencies. The Governor also plans the budget for the state and makes suggestions to the legislature for new laws. The Lieutenant Governor is the first assistant to the Governor and would take over if the Governor were unable to perform his/her duties. The Secretary of State oversees state elections, keeps track of official state paperwork and publishes state materials. The Attorney General is the state's top lawyer. The Attorney General and other members of the office represent the state in court, enforce state laws and advise other state officials on legal matters concerning the state. The State Treasurer is in charge of the state's revenues, collecting state taxes and fees and paying bills. The Insurance Commissioner oversees the insurance companies operating in Kansas. The State Board of Education determines policies for public schools in the state.

The judicial branch of the government hears cases about the meaning of state laws or whether people have broken the state laws. It handles disputes concerning personal rights (civil cases), and crimes against persons or the state (criminal cases). The Kansas Supreme Court is the highest judicial body and has seven justices appointed by the Governor. After their appointment, Supreme Court justices are subject to a public vote every six years. The Supreme Court hears cases about the constitutionality of Kansas laws or cases that are appealed from a lower state court. The Kansas Court of Appeals was established in 1977 to help the Supreme Court handle cases on appeal from lower courts. There are ten justices on the Court of Appeals, although as few as three at a time may hear a case. The Court of Appeals justices are approved by a public vote every four years after their appointment. Below these two courts are many District Courts and Municipal Courts.

Local Government

County and municipal governments provide local government and services to the people. There are 105 counties in Kansas, and each has a county seat. The duties of the county government include enforcing state and local laws, collecting taxes and maintaining county roads. County officials include the county commissioners, county treasurer, county clerk, county attorney and the county coroner. Most county officials are elected to four-year terms. Municipal governments or cities have their own laws, such as zoning laws, as long as they don't conflict with state or federal laws. They can levy local taxes and provide services to their citizens, such as maintaining city streets and issuing marriage licenses. There are many elected municipal officials and their duties and terms of office vary from city to city.

Additional Resources

bulletMore information about state government can be found at the Kansas State Home Page.
bulletMore information about local communities can be found at the Kansas Community Networks and the Interactive Map of Kansas web sites.

Study Guide Questions

  1. When was Kansas admitted as a state?
  2. Who are the state's representatives and senators to the U.S. Congress? Who is your local representative to the House of Representatives?
  3. Who are the current Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General for Kansas? Who are your local representatives to the Kansas Senate and Kansas House of Representatives?
  4. What are the two houses of the state legislature and how many members does each have?
  5. What are the current bills on the agenda of the state legislature and what issues do they address?
  6. What are some of the recent opinions on cases heard by the Kansas State Supreme Court?
  7. How many counties are there in Kansas?

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