Senate Passes Hard 50 Fix, Special Session Ends

(WIBW) - The Kansas Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to approve Caleb Stegall's nomination to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Their 32-8 vote was split along party lines.

Stegall most recently served as the Governor's chief attorney. He spent more than an hour Tuesday answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee before the panel approved his nomination.

Critics questioned Stegall's qualifications, citing his lack of prior judicial experience. Sen. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley also is among those who've lashed out at what they call secrecy surrounding the process, since Gov. Brownback opted not to publicly release the names of the other applicants for the position.

Stegall is the first Appeals Court judge nominated under a new system where the Governor screens applicants and makes the appointment, subject to Senate confirmation. Under the old process, a nominating commission interviewed applicants and sent three names to the Governor from which to select. The commission did publicly release applicants' names.

 

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Kansas Legislature finished its business and ended its special session in two days.

The Senate voted just after 5pm Wednesday to approve a measure fixing a constitutional flaw in the state's Hard 50 sentence. Their vote was 40-0.

The House approved it Tuesday 122-0, which means the bill now heads to Gov. Sam Brownback.

A series of gubernatorial confirmation votes completed late Wednesday in the Senate brought the session to its end.

Just as in the House debate, an amendment offered in the Senate related to the state's voter identification laws was ruled not germane to the subject matter.

The Hard 50 law allows some convicted murderers to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. But a June U.S. Supreme Court decision said a jury must decide aggravating factors for enhanced sentences. Under current Kansas law, a judge makes the decision.

The bill advocated by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt puts a jury process into the Hard 50 sentencing law. In comments echoing those he made to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Schmidt told the Senate committee Wednesday that a change is needed immediately to end a period of uncertainty with Hard 50 cases that are on appeal or in the trial process, plus crimes that might occur between now and when the Legislature would convene its regular session in January.

Schmidt released a statement following the Senate's vote:

“The members of the Kansas legislature today unanimously stood strong for public safety in adopting the fix to the Kansas ‘Hard 50’ law. I am grateful that they were willing to return to Topeka to repair the law. With this legislation, Kansas has reinstated the option to make sure the ‘worst of the worst’ murderers stay behind bars for at least 50 years. I again thank Governor Brownback for calling the legislature back into session, and I commend the legislators for their efficient work in restoring this important public safety measure in a historically brief two-day session.”

The bill would apply retroactively to 45 cases that are on appeal or in process. Schmidt says that is allowed under the law because lawmakers are enacting a procedural change to the law as opposed to a substantive change.

But the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers disagrees. Randall Hodgkinson told the Senate Judiciary committee that any change applying a sentence retroactively is a substantive change. He says the retroactivity portion of the bill violates the constitution and would invite legal challenges.

Prosecutors told the Senate committee Wednesday that changes made by the House improved the bill. Among those changes, the House inserted language clarifying that, for the cases on appeal or in process, a new jury of 12 would be convened to consider the Hard 50 sentence if the original jury was already dismissed.

Gov. Brownback statement on end of special session:
“I congratulate the legislature, and especially House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle, on thoughtfully addressing the issue of public safety and repairing Kansas’s “Hard 50” sentence.

The Legislature acted quickly, with resolve and narrow focus, to protect the safety of all Kansans and I appreciate their service. The broad bipartisan support for the “Hard 50” sentencing guidelines can be seen in the unanimous votes in both the House and Senate.

Kansas legislators demonstrated their commitment to all Kansans with their quick and decisive actions.

Several appointments were confirmed during this Special Session, including Jim Clark as Secretary of Administration, Josh Ney as Securities Commissioner and Caleb Stegall to the Court of Appeals. A total of 19 Kansans were approved to serve on boards and commissions. I appreciate the diligence of the review committees and Senate in confirming them, and I thank these Kansans for their willingness to serve their fellow citizens.

I join my fellow Kansans in thanking the Legislature for its commitment and service, and especially for the collaboration shown throughout this special session.”


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