A few new laws will be on the books in Hays and around Kansas, with the annual updating of the city's criminal code and traffic ordinances by the League of Kansas Municipalities.
The League’s update normally doesn’t make sweeping changes, but rather tweaks a few, fine-tunes others or works out kinks that have become apparent.
Hays City Commissioners on Thursday evening at their regular weekly meeting at City Hall unanimously adopted ordinances that accept the League’s updates for this year.
“These are all Kansas laws,” said Hays police Chief Don Scheibler, in explaining some of the changes, “and every year we do this.”
This year’s update was an effort to thoroughly ensure that the Uniform Public Offense Code, which spells out nontraffic offenses for Kansas cities, and the Standard Traffic Ordinance, which spells out traffic violations, both closely match the Kansas Criminal Code and Uniform Traffic Act that exist in Kansas Statutes.
Probably most notable for Hays police is the change that covers possession of a firearm while under the influence.
“One that we’ve seen quite a bit, actually,” said Scheibler, “is a person arrested for DUI, they’ll have a loaded handgun underneath the seat, in the door or in the console.”
The new law prohibits a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs to carry a loaded firearm or to have immediate access to one in their vehicle. It doesn’t apply to people in their home, business or on their own property.
“Prior to the new law, if we arrested someone for DUI and they had a firearm, we would have to charge them through District Court. This will allow us to charge them through municipal court,” Scheibler explained after the meeting. “It’s a misdemeanor violation.”
One change may present some tricky challenges for law enforcement, Scheibler acknowledged to the commission.
The change allows for what’s described as an “affirmative defense test” for CBD oil to show that it has less than 5% THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, which remains illegal in Kansas.
Possession of CBD oil with up to 5% THC is legal, if the person in possession has a debilitating medical condition with a letter in their possession from a licensed physician confirming a pharmaceutical CBD oil prescription for treatment.
“They have to have a doctor’s letter with them at all times?” asked Mayor Henry Schwaller IV, asking what if the bottle is unmarked as to the THC content.
“They have to have that letter,” said Scheibler. If unmarked, “it would have to be tested. That definitely limits us as to what we could do with that. We went out to our local businesses, and we saw, and they were able to show us, their paperwork, that it doesn’t have any THC. Stuff being purchased in Colorado, it does list on there the THC.”
“Yes, and it’s usually more than five percent,” Schwaller said.
The new law presents some challenges for law enforcement, Scheibler said.
“It’s an affirmative defense. It’s illegal for them to have it, but here’s a person with a letter from a doctor saying ‘My child needs it for treatment,’ and I know they’re not going to be found guilty in court. But nothing in the law allows the officer to turn around and hand that back. If he hands it back, it’s a felony, distributing THC.”
“And they can’t take it and test it?” asked Commissioner Sandy Jacobs.
“Yes, we could test it,” Scheibler said. “Each situation would vary.”
Scheibler explained afterward that, “if we find a person in possession with CBD oil that contains THC, we’ll seize that.”
Testing will take time, he said.
“They could be ticketed, we probably won’t arrest at that point, until we get some test results back,” he said. “We’re still working our way through the new law and trying to determine the best way to do what the legislation is trying to do.”
Kansas' new law is trying to appease two groups, he said, “people who want to use CBD oil to take care of their health challenges, and they’re trying to also enforce the marijuana laws of the state of Kansas.”
In other changes, two new laws were added to the Standard Traffic Ordinance. One applies to the laws governing increasingly popular electric scooters.
The scooter law, which applies to any motorized two-wheeled vehicle with handle bars and a brake, says they can’t be driven on federal and state highways, and must follow the same rules of the road for bicycles on city streets.
“They absolutely have to be on the street?” asked City Commissioner Shaun Musil, citing the new scooters in Wichita, which can’t be ridden on sidewalks.
“They have to follow the same rules as the bicyclists,” Scheibler said, explaining later that bicycles in Hays can be ridden on the sidewalks in residential areas. “You can’t ride your bicycle on the sidewalk downtown, you can ride your bicycle on the street.”
Another change isn’t normally an issue in Hays, he said, despite scores of YouTube videos where someone “shows” an officer their driver’s license through a closed car window, without actually handing it over. This law is meant to correct that literal interpretation of the existing law.
“This law was changed because officers across the country are having incidents of drivers refusing to hand their license to the officer,” Scheibler said.
The rewriting clearly states a driver is required to promptly hand over their license when police ask for it.
“Does that happen very often,” Musil asked, “people refuse to hand over their driver’s license?”
“We haven’t had any problem here, we live in a very good community, good people,” Scheibler said. “Across the country, it’s been an ongoing challenge for law enforcement. We saw one YouTube video, just outside of Salina, where a couple was stopped and they refused to give their license. It became a situation, with the officer on the road … This is an officer safety issue, because the longer they’re there, the more likely they are to be struck by a car.”
Breaking that law isn’t an arresting offense, he said.
“It’s a traffic infraction,” Scheibler said, and warrants a ticket.
How will police write a ticket without a license proving who’s driving?
“Yes,” he replied, “exactly.”
Two other laws added to the Uniform Public Offense Code are: a law that prohibits interfering with any EMS provider performing their duties, or impeding them from reaching an emergency; and one that prohibits recklessly coercing, demanding or encouraging another person to perform, as a condition of membership in a social or fraternal organization, any act that could result in great bodily harm, disfigurement or death.
All the changes go into effect in Hays immediately after they are published in the newspaper of record, The Hays Daily News, Scheibler said, mentioning that could be as early as Tuesday.