"Kan. special session raises new sentencing issues," is by John Hanna for AP, via the San Francisco Chronicle.
Kansas legislators plan to make quick work of fixing the state's "Hard 50" criminal sentencing law during the special session that begins Tuesday, but their discussions ahead of the opening gavels have raised other issues about punishing murderers.
Lawmakers from both parties see widespread agreement on legislation to rewrite the law allowing defendants convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in June raised questions about the law's constitutionality.
A joint legislative committee already has tinkered with a proposal for fixing the law from Attorney General Derek Schmidt, and legislative leaders hope the final version of the measure will pass by Wednesday evening. The issue is relatively simple: Having juries weigh evidence on whether the "Hard 50" should be imposed, rather than trial court judges, as is the case now.
But in working on a quick fix last week, legislators already were pondering whether a repaired "Hard 50" law is tough enough, particularly after they boosted penalties for violent sex offenses and other crimes such as human trafficking in recent years. That, in turn, is likely to spur debate about the Kansas death penalty law, which was enacted in 1994 but so far has resulted in no executions.
"Anytime you look at a sentencing provision in the law, it's bound to generate a discussion about whether that sentence and other parts of our sentencing guidelines are reflective of the appropriate punishment," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.
Legislative leaders want to avoid a broader debate over criminal sentencing until lawmakers convene their next regular, annual session in January. When Republican Gov. Sam Brownback scheduled the Legislature's special session last month, his proclamation called for lawmakers to finish their work by Thursday. Each day costs taxpayers about $40,000.
And, this exceprt references Sen. David Haley, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King,.
Haley said he also wants to discuss repealing the death penalty. Critics of the state's law have questioned whether it can be administered fairly and suggested the lengthy appeals involved in each case make it too costly.
The law's supporters — who doubt a majority in both chambers would vote for repeal — contend it's an appropriate penalty for a small number of crimes. The state's last executions were in 1965 under a previous law eventually invalidated by the courts.
King acknowledged that a discussion of the death penalty is a natural byproduct of any debate about murder sentences.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports, "Legislators hope return to Topeka is brief," by Andy Marso.
Legislators return to Topeka this week for their first special session since 2005 — a session that, at a cost of about $40,000 per day, leaders have promised will be short and focused.
The session centers on making a change to the state's "Hard 50" sentence of life in prison with 50 years before the first chance at parole. The goal is to allow juries to hand down the sentence rather than judges, in order to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
There are some questions about whether to try and make such a fix retroactive to apply to Hard 50 cases in progress or on appeal, and how effective that might be.
But leaders of both the House and Senate have suggested they will quash any new bills in order to keep the session focused on the Hard 50.
Those leaders have little power to prevent members from trying to tack amendments onto the Hard 50 legislation, though, if they are related to the underlying bill on murder sentences.
Barker said though he hopes such a contentious item isn’t introduced, an amendment to repeal the death penalty would certainly fit that description.
"It could be very germane to the bill," Barker said.
Death penalty opponents in the House and Senate have said they don't plan to introduce such a measure until 2014, though Haley noted he has one drafted.
"If someone else were to (introduce it this week) I would certainly support it," Haley said.
Earlier coverage of the Kansas Legislature begins at the link.