Last Week for Committee Work
This coming week is the last week for bills to be considered in
non-exempt committees. The House will then spend several long days on the floor debating legislation. As bills are passed, conference
committees will meet so that House and Senate versions of bills can be reconciled and given final approval by both chambers. Then legislation is off to the Governor for his signature or veto. Any bill that has not passed both House and Senate chambers by "Drop Dead Day" on April 5th, can no longer be debated (although certain bills, such as the budget, are exempt from this deadline).
In April the Legislature will take a five-week break. This gives the
Governor ample time to take action on all legislation that has been sent to his desk. In mid-April, updated revenue predictions will be released for the state budget. On May 8th, the Legislature will reconvene for the Veto Session. At that time we will finalize the budget based on the new revenue projections, and take action on remaining conference committee reports. Occasionally there are veto override attempts. The length of the Veto Session varies from year to year, but the average length is usually about 3-4 days. Finally, we will reconvene one more time at the end of May for the ceremonial end of the session, which is referred to as Sine Die.
KBI and Washburn Forensic Lab
This week, the Chair of the Transportation & Public Safety Committee
invited Washburn University and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) to come back to the committee to give us more detail on their
collaborative project to build a new forensics laboratory for the State
of Kansas. Earlier in the session the Committee had recommended to the full Appropriations Committee to make the KBI pay the required $3.5 million initial engineering fees for the project out of their existing fee fund balances. The Appropriations Committee had many questions about the financing of the project and accepted the sub-committee's recommendation. Since then, the KBI director provided more information on the actual fee fund balances and how they are already factored into the budget for 2014. Much of the money has already been transferred to the Department of Administration, who will be handling the lease and
making the payments to Washburn University on behalf of the State and KBI. The KBI also took money from the fee funds to fill employee positions that they had to hold open last year due to the shrinkage rates assigned by the legislature.
Yet, when the Transportation & Public Safety Budget committee went back to the full House Appropriations with the additional information on the costs of the project and the lack of fee funds, Appropriations voted again to deny the $3.5 million. Hopefully, the Senate Ways & Means Committee will weigh in on this decision. No one denies that the State needs a new forensics laboratory. I just think back to the Hearings on the bill to remove the statute of limitations on rape and the testimony of the young lady who was the 13th victim of a serial rapist in Lawrence. Her forensic lab results were just completed (over 4 years after the crime), which leaves one year to find the rapist under Kansas' current 5 year statute of limitation. She is still waiting to see if there is a match in the national register from the comparison to her forensic results.
Page 2 of 3 - The KBI director testified that the turnover rate for forensic
scientists is 33%. He stated that part of the problem is the salary and part of it is the working conditions. Currently, a trained scientist
can be hired away from the State to work in state of the art
laboratories. Kansas' current lab is in the KBI building, which is an
old converted high school in Topeka. The State of Kansas pays
approximately $197,000 to train a scientist. With a new lab on the
Washburn University campus, the working conditions would be state of the art and students would be able to work at the lab, cutting the cost of training and enhancing their educational experience. A win-win for both the KBI and the students
Death Penalty Appeals
Corrections & Juvenile Justice Committee had several bills this week
dealing with appeals by persons sentenced to death.
SB40 would amend the statutes on the use of DNA results to grant a new trial. The Kansas District & County Attorney Association requested the statute to be changed so that rather than saying when DNA is found "unfavorable to" or "favorable to" a case, it should read "do not exonerate" or "exonerate." They testified that if new DNA is
found that could show a 3rd person's involvement in a crime, that it
should not be "favorable" to the request for a new trial, the DNA
could just be showing that a scientist made a mistake rather than
exonerate the person on death row. The Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Project for Innocence, both opposed the requested change. They testified that the change would create barriers to request a new trial in a death penalty case that are harder to overcome than in a non-death penalty case, and that it would be a higher standard of proof than was needed to put the person in jail in the first place.
HB2388 dealt with the Supreme Court review of errors in capital murder cases and HB2389 dealt with prosecutors' notice of intent to seek the death penalty. Both of these bills were requested by the Solicitor General Office of the Kansas Attorney General. The Deputy Solicitor General testified that HB2388 was requested because of a court case where the Court did not use the established rules of appellate procedure and this bill would ensure the rules were followed. The Innocence Project public defenders testified in opposition, saying the proposed change would limit how a person could appeal the death penalty and would actually make the appeal process take longer than it already does. The public defenders explained that death penalty cases require "super due
process diligence" so if an error is found, it should be corrected as
Page 3 of 3 - soon as possible. The change proposed by this bill would just stop the correction of errors in the earlier stages of the appeals process and at the lowest level possible. The errors would be considered eventually but would prolong the procedure by years and the appeals process for the death penalty is much too long and costly now.
HB2389 would change the requirement for the County or District
Attorney's office to file the notice that the death penalty will be
requested to the "prosecuting" attorney. The Deputy Solicitor
General explained that in small towns or counties that there may be a conflict of interest for the county/district attorney in a case because of prior dealings with the defendant. In these cases, a special prosecuting attorney will be brought in and that they should be able to file the notice. There were no opponents to this proposed change.