Governor Brownback Calls Special Legislative Session

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Governor's Office Release

Topeka – In the interest of protecting public safety and in response to a request from Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Governor Sam Brownback will call the Legislature into special session at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3.

The Attorney General formally requested the special session on July 24, 2013 for the purpose of repairing Kansas’ “Hard 50” sentence following the June 17, 2013 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Alleyne v. United States. Legal experts in the field agree that the Alleyne decision renders the current Kansas “Hard 50” law unconstitutional because the sentencing decision is made by a judge and not the jury. According to the Attorney General, the Legislature can cure the constitutional defect by adopting a relatively simple procedural fix allowing the jury to making the necessary factual findings before the “Hard 50” sentence is imposed.

“The ‘Hard 50’ sentence is a vital public safety tool that has been in place for more than 10 years,” Brownback said. “It is intended to remove the most dangerous and violent killers from society for at least 50 years. The sudden absence of the ‘Hard 50’ sentence poses a real and present danger to the public safety of all Kansans. I am confident the Legislature can and will act quickly, with resolve and narrow focus, to protect our citizens by restoring to prosecutors the immediate ability to seek the ‘Hard 50’ sentence for the worst offenders.”

Broad bipartisan support exists among the leaders of this Legislature that this special session is necessary and is in the best interests of public safety. Additionally, law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies across the state have urged the Governor to adopt the Attorney General’s recommendation.

“We must address this issue to protect all our citizens, but particularly out of concern for the victims of these crimes and their families,” Brownback said. “I agree with the Attorney General’s opinion that we face an ‘extraordinary occasion’ sufficient to justify this office exercising its authority to call the Legislature into special session pursuant to Article 1, Section 5 of the Kansas Constitution.”

Due to the constitutional and statutory requirement that the state bring criminal defendants to trial in a speedy manner, time is of the essence. After consulting with Attorney General Schmidt and legislative leaders, it was agreed a special session during the first week of September is optimal timing. According to the law enforcement community that time period effectively protects public safety while allowing the necessary time requested by the Attorney General for adequate preparation and planning to ensure a quick, focused and orderly session. According to the Attorney General, putting this issue off until next January will “virtually guarantee” an increase in “the number of convicted killers who will be eligible for parole after only 25 years instead of after 50 years.”

“It is my hope after talking to legislative leaders that the special session can be completed by the close of business on Sept. 5,” said Governor Brownback.

Reaction from House Leaders:
“The ruling could have dangerous and unintended implications in Kansas,” said House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell). “The goal is not to make a broad change to the law, but to fix the technical aspects that could allow criminals to walk free after reduced sentences. Our intention is to limit the time and scope of the special session to this single issue.”

The special session will cost approximately $40,000 per day. Only essential staff will be utilized in an effort to restrain costs.

“The price is relatively small compared with the need to ensure that our citizens are not affected by a loophole created by the recent ruling,” said Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast (R-Emporia).

Since its inception in 1999, cases resulting in the use of the “The Hard 50” law have been upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in this instance overturned prior precedent, resulting in the need to adjust Kansas law.

“This recent U. S. Supreme Court decision undercuts the state’s “Hard 50” law and opens the possibility of violent criminals being released on the streets,” said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey (R-Louisburg). “The Legislature must act to close this loophole and ensure prosecutors have the tools necessary to keep our communities safe.”

“This is not a partisan issue,” Speaker Merrick said. “The goal is to reaffirm the ability of the judicial branch to impose mandatory sentences on violent and dangerous offenders.”

Reaction from Senate leadership:
Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce (R-Hutchinson), and Senate Vice President Jeff King (R-Independence) Friday announced their support for convening a special session of the Kansas Legislature.

“I appreciate the assessment of the situation by the Governor and the Attorney General, and support their decision,” President Wagle said. “After learning about the circumstances of the pending cases, and recognizing the critical time element involved with the appeals process, it’s clear we must act. The Senate will respond quickly and efficiently to protect public safety.”

“The Kansas Legislature has been called upon to address a very serious public safety concern,” said Senator Bruce. “While returning to Topeka for a special session is often a last resort, crafting legislation to keep our constituents safe from violent offenders is the proper response to the Alleyne Decision. Legislative action should be taken in a reasonable period of time and in a bipartisan manner.”

“Protecting the safety of all Kansans is the Legislature’s most important job,” said Senator King. “Unless we act promptly, the Alleyne decision will force us to release the most dangerous criminals before they serve the full 50 years. I look forward to ensuring violent offenders serve their full sentences in prison.”