TOPEKA — During the early part of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers in at least one instance demonstrated the ability to quickly assemble a bill and send it to the governor with bipartisan support.
House Bill 2581 — one of more than 60 bills Gov. Jeff Colyer has signed into law — amplifies penalties for a practice known as “swatting,” in which a prank call is placed to lure armored police to a certain location. Legislation was drafted in response to a high-profile case in December, when Wichita police killed an unarmed man after responding to a bogus call from someone playing an online video game in California.
Two Wichita representatives typically found at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Democrat John Carmichael and Republican John Whitmer, sponsored the bill, which allows for the equivalent of a second-degree murder charge if a “swatting” call results in death.
“Rep. Whitmer and I did that deliberately,” Carmichael said, “to see if we could introduce a bill with a Democrat and a Republican, under our own names, not through a committee, and actually get it to become law, and the bill passed unanimously in both houses of the Legislature and was signed by the governor. So for me, personally, that’s an encouraging sign. There are also a lot of things, though, that are undone.”
Lawmakers return today still needing to tackle taxes, the budget and other issues during a wrap-up session scheduled to conclude May 4. They also need to address an $80 million error in a school finance plan passed by the slimmest possible margin at the end of the regular session.
But they already have managed to pass an array of legislation that will strengthen penalties for DUI offenders, clear the way for industrial hemp research, designate state symbols and restrict gun possession for domestic abusers.
Senate Bill 263 allows the Kansas Department of Agriculture to oversee the cultivation of industrial hemp through a research program. KDA said the “opportunity to grow a new specialty oilseed crop in Kansas offers potential for diversification for Kansas farmers looking for an alternative crop.”
A public forum on the topic is scheduled for May 11 in Manhattan.
Under House Bill 2439, also known as Caitlin’s Law, a “habitual violator” of drunk driving can be charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing somebody while intoxicated behind the wheel. Colyer signed the bill on what would have been Caitlin Vogel’s 26th birthday. She was killed in 2016 by a repeat offender in Johnson County.
“This bill assures those who choose to ignore limitations placed upon their privilege to drive as a result of DUI will feel the full weight of the law for their senseless act,” said Rep. Russ Jennings, a Lakin Republican and lead sponsor of the bill. “We are sending a strong message: Don’t do it. The price you pay will be very high if you do.”
Thanks to House Bill 2650, Kansas has designated Greenhorn limestone as the official state rock. The official state mineral is galena. Jelinite amber is the official gemstone, and channel catfish is the state fish.
At a rally in March at the Statehouse, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America called on lawmakers to support House Bill 2145, which redefines “criminal use of weapons” in state statute to make it illegal for someone to own a gun within five years of a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence.
The Senate passed the bill on a 40-0 vote a day after the rally. The final vote in the House was 113-6.
Carmichael and Senate President Susan Wagle said they were encouraged by passage of House Bill 2459, which requires law enforcement to track the assets they seize and whether those assets are related to criminal charges.
“In terms of due process protections for people who have their property taken from them on sometimes seemingly flimsy evidence, that is a significant accomplishment that I know we have been working on for the five years I have been in this Legislature,” Carmichael said.
Wagle also pointed to the expansion of lobbying rules as another example of bipartisan work. The Wichita Republican joined Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, in sponsoring Senate Bill 394. The law requires disclosures for those trying to influence the executive and judicial branches of government.
Another highlight for Wagle was passage of House Bill 2541, which improves tuition assistance for members of the Kansas National Guard.
“The historic 2018 session brought greater transparency to Kansas government, additional higher education funding for the men and women in uniform serving our country, and bipartisan civil forfeiture reform,” Wagle said.