TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators who oppose a proposal aimed at expediting appeals in death penalty cases appeared Thursday to have blocked its passage this year.
House and Senate negotiators on criminal justice issues abandoned the measure Thursday night, only hours after the full House refused on a procedural voice vote to clear the way for action in both chambers on the measure.
The negotiators had been working on a bill that would both set deadlines in capital murder appeals and make some law enforcement records available to the public. The three senators and three House members cut the two proposals apart and saved the open records proposal, which come up for final votes in each chamber Friday.
The death penalty changes would have given attorneys less than a year to file their legal arguments with the Kansas Supreme Court, which must review every capital murder case. The length of their filings also would have been limited, and the Supreme Court would have had a year after the filings were finished to render a decision. However, the high court would have retained some discretion to extend deadlines.
Kansas enacted its current death penalty law in 1994 but has yet to execute anyone. Nine men have been sentenced to death and none is expected to face lethal injection for at least several more years. Some legislators argue that appeals drag out unnecessarily, thwarting the will of juries and causing pain to victims’ families.
“We’ll have to have that conversation next year,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, an Independence Republican and a leading advocate of the changes.
King had said that even with the changes, death penalty appeals likely would take an average of nearly 11 years to run their course.
But two of the six negotiators opposed the death penalty language, and the Legislature’s rules required both chambers to agree to move ahead with the legislation despite the dissenters’ qualms. Senators agreed, but the House rejected the idea on a voice vote, with a resounding collective shout of “no.”
“The bill had no chance of passing with those provisions in it — passing the House,” said Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican and chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.
Rubin supported the death penalty provisions, but the more pressing goal for him was allowing public access to law enforcement documents on arrests and searches, which are now closed in Kansas.
Prosecutors had been nervous about opening such records to the public. Rubin said the proposal would increase transparency in law enforcement activities and bring Kansas in line with the rest of the nation.
“It’s important for Kansas to end its position as an outlier state,” Rubin said.