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Sen. McGinn: House needs to re-open community corrections funding

TOPEKA — Going into the weekend, the future of Senate Bill 6, which would toughen penalties for DUIs and create a central repository to track offenders, remains uncertain.

The House corrections and juvenile justice and Senate judiciary conference committee plans to meet again at 9 a.m. Monday to try to hash out details of the bill.

There’s been a major setback in that the House agreed to put $2 million in its budget to pay for community corrections for DUI offenders. But House budget negotiators later accepted the Senate’s position not to spend that money.

Now some are saying that House negotiators are willing to consider the funding, but their leadership thinks the Senate should bring up the issue again. The Senate, meanwhile, says that if the House wants to reverse itself, representatives need to raise their hands.

On Wednesday, Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said “For this bill to fail for that kind of petty protocol would be a travesty for public safety.”

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, chair of the Senate’s ways and means committee and that chamber’s lead negotiator on the budget conference committee, said today “It was our understanding it was going to come from the House. But the House does not want to spend any more money.”

Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton and chair of the House appropriations committee, said Wednesday the House was not being petty. He said said it was the Senate’s position not to fund the $2 million.

Just Wednesday morning, Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park and chair of the state’s DUI commission, suggested throwing out the bill if the state couldn’t find the $2 million for community corrections for DUI offenders. Since then,, he has been more agreeable to pass other parts of the bill, including the tracking system he says is critical to making Kansas’ roadways more safe.

Kansas.com reported first last week that the Kansas Department of Transportation agreed to move money around in its budget to come up with $2.5 million for the central repository, aimed at giving law enforcement, prosecutors and judges a clearer and more accurate picture of a DUI offender’s record.

The commission was formed after a 2008 accident in Wichita in which a drunken driver crashed into a 4-year-old girl and her mother as they were crossing a street to go to the girl’s school.

Prosecutors charged the driver with his fifth DUI after the accident, state and county records show. But because of gaps in reporting, the state driver’s license database showed only two of those convictions. That led to questions about how meaningful the state’s DUI laws can be if law enforcement, prosecutors and judges don’t know how many times a driver has gotten behind the wheel while under the influence.

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