Capitol update: Legislature heads to special session to reconsider ‘Hard 50’ law

In an effort to keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we feature update columns from northeast Johnson County’s elected officials in the legislature. The legislature heads in to special session today as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, and northeast Johnson County Rep. Barbara Bollier sends us this overview of what is on the docket:

At the order of Gov. Sam Brownback, the Kansas legislature has been called back for a special session beginning today, Sept. 3. The recent U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Alleyne v. United States regarding mandatory minimum sentencing causes our “Hard 50” law to be unconstitutional.

Rep. Barbara Bollier
Rep. Barbara Bollier

Currently, Kansas law stipulates that judges determine the aggravating factors that justify a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years before the possibility of parole. The U.S. Supreme Court decision determined that this may violate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights and stated that defendants must have a jury make the decision. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt requested this special session so that the legislature can amend/replace our statute to bring it into constitutional compliance before more cases are affected.The Special Committee on Judiciary has met in advance and proposed language for the change in the law. The legislature appears to be in agreement to change the law so that it is consistent with the Supreme Court ruling. If no other issues are brought forward (as the Governor and leadership from both legislative chambers have encouraged) the session should wrap up in two or three days. Although some people believe that this special session was unnecessary, the call was made by the Governor and the bill will be put forward.

Additionally during this special session, the Senate is required to vote whether or not to approve Caleb Stegall to the Court of Appeals in Kansas. Stegall was selected by the Governor under our new selection process. Regarding judicial selection approval by the Senate, the new process is law. Senators will not be voting on the process, but will decide if they can approve Caleb Stegall for the Appellate Court. Under the previous Missouri Plan for selection, the top three candidates were selected by a panel, followed by the Governor making an appointment from those three candidates. With our new selection process in place, the question is not whether Mr. Stegall is the most qualified. He is the candidate and does the Senate find him acceptable as an appellate judge? With a conservative Senate, there is little doubt that he will be approved.

Finally, even if other bills are brought forward, legislative leadership has been clear that they DO NOT want other issues brought forward at this time. They have implied that any additional issue will be sidelined until the regular session convenes next January. Stay tuned this week as the politics of this special session unfold!