A House committee advanced legislation Wednesday to make sexual extortion a crime and expand the sex offender registry to include the perpetrators.
The panel, which heard testimony on the issue earlier this week, approved the bill on a voice vote.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, said sexual extortion is a problem among youths in Johnson County.
“It’s also worth noting that this type of coercion can be used to coerce people to participate in human trafficking,” Clayton said. “So for instance: ‘Perform these acts. Otherwise, I’ll share these things online and your parents will see them,’ and that sort of thing.”
Clayton provided information this week to the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee about House Bill 2208, which establishes two felonies for sexual extortion, based on the severity of the crime.
Sean Ostrow, a Lawrence attorney at the international law firm Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, said perpetrators use the internet as a way to target women.
“Sexual extortion is not a new problem but one that has proliferated in the digital age,” Ostrow said. “Sexual extortion is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a form of extortion, but instead of demanding money or property, the perpetrator demands sexual images or in-person sexual contact.”
Ostrow said the bill defines the crime and assists law enforcement in stopping these types of acts in Kansas.
Among other proposals the committee is looking at, House Bill 2132 would increase penalties for public sexual behavior in Kansas.
Committee members expressed hesitation on taking any action. Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, said the proposed penalties are too high for some crimes.
“I have some of the same concerns about this bill as I did last year,” Highberger said.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, also expressed concerns, saying "proportionality and sentencing is very important."
Committee members also heard this week from Scott Schultz, executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, who discussed the impact of individuals with out-of-state offenses who garner less punishment time. He offered testimony in support of House Bill 2048.
The legislation would enact criteria determining whether an out-of-state offense is comparable to the same crime in Kansas.
“If these individuals are not receiving person felony designations on their out-of-state prior criminal activity, then they’re going to be sentenced to less time,” Schultz said. “In some cases, significantly less time, so that would be a potential impact that we’re seeing or are going to see.”
Schultz said there were 536 recorded out-of-state convictions last year, but no out-of-state misdemeanors were counted within that specific data.
“The key thing from the guidelines is that we have a system in which we are counting all criminal history,” Schultz said.
Johnson County assistant district attorney Jacob Gontesky said the issue is prevalent on the Kansas-Missouri border, referring to it as an emergency.
“It’s an issue that I can tell you, right off the bat, our assistant district attorneys face this issue in court, every single day on sentencings,” he said.
Clayton Perkins, with the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying it will create an increase of beds in jails across Kansas and possibly create harsher sentences for out-of-state crimes.
“So this is actually proposing to make out-of-state offenses used worse classified as persons, whereas all the Kansas offenses would be non-person,” Perkins said. “That just immediately strikes me as possibly an equal protection-type issue, that we’re actually treating out-of-state offenders worse than we’re treating in-state offenders, when the goal of all of this is to get those in equity.”