Governor signs bills on grandparents' rights, hit-and-run penalties, inauguration donations and voyeur photos

TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback signed a flurry of bills into law today, including measures to give grandparents more rights in child-in-need-of-care cases and allow the governor to donate unspent inaugural funds to charity.

The governor also signed bills to stiffen penalties for leaving the scene of an accident and for secretly taking pictures of people who are nude.

In the ceremony at his Capitol office, the first bill Brownback signed was Senate Bill 67, a measure allowing him – and any future governors – to donate unspent money from their inaugurations to charity.

“The economy’s tough, what we need to do is do something to help people with the inauguration, not spend a whole bunch of money on having a big party after the election,” Brownback said.

But he said the Governmental Ethics Commission ruled that it would be illegal for him to donate unspent inauguration funds. He said as soon as the new law takes effect, his office will contribute the leftover money to community health clinics.

Brownback would not say how much money will be donated because there are still a few bills to be paid from his January inauguration.

He also said he hopes that a charity dinner can be added to the schedule in future inaugurations.

Brownback signed the bill flanked by representatives from clinics across the state, including Dave Sanford, director of the GraceMed Clinic in Wichita.

Sanford praised the public-private partnership between the state and clinics like GraceMed, primarily sponsored by the United Methodist Church.

"We appreciate the governor's support, not just through this bill signing, but honestly through the legislative process and what's allocated to clinics throughout Kansas through the KDHE (Kansas Department of Health and Environment)," he said.

The governor also signed House Substitute for Senate Bill 23, which expands grandparents' rights to take over parenting when their children are deemed unfit parents. It also makes it easier for youths in state custody to earn a high school diploma.

The bill gives grandparents automatic standing in court in child-in-need-of-care cases.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, who pushed for the new law, noted that grandparents already have some rights in such cases.

But without automatic standing as interested parties, they would not necessarily be sent notice of proceedings involving their grandchildren, resulting in the children being placed in institutions or foster care.

"I'm just happy for the grandparents," Faust-Goudeau said at the bill signing. "Now (they) will have the right to be in court and speak up."

The bill also requires school districts to issue actual diplomas to students in state care or custody when they meet the minimum state Board of Education graduation requirements.

Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said youths are moved around in the system and often end up at high schools where they don't meet that district's specific graduation requirements. Using the state requirements will reduce dropout rates, she said.

The governor also signed House Bill 2151, which modifies the crime of "breach of privacy" and makes it a felony to secretly photograph someone who is nude or semi-nude.

The bill spun off a Leavenworth case in which a man took nude pictures of his goddaughter using a remote-control camera

Also included in the bills signed today are two significant changes in traffic laws.

House Bill 2044 increases the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident. Supporters say it closes a loophole in which drunk drivers could lessen their penalty by fleeing from an accident scene until they sobered up, so police could not prove they were legally drunk when the crash took place. The bill came about largely because of a Lawrence case in which a hit-and-run driver escaped having to serve jail time after a fatal crash, even though bar-security tapes showed he had been drinking heavily before the accident.

Senate Bill 136 establishes a "no pay, no play" clause to state insurance law. Under the new law, uninsured drivers would be prohibited from seeking recovery of non-economic damages due to an accident.

Other bills signed into law at today's ceremony include:

* Senate Bill 2105 – prohibits courts from removing a child from a parent's custody solely because the parent is homeless.

* House Bill 2014 – allows mental health facilities to release patient information to law enforcement in order to help mentally ill arrestees get treatment rather than being placed in correctional institutions.

* House Bill 2135 – Tightens rules and establishes penalties for businesses that misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid employment-related taxes.

* House Bill 2151 – Designates portions of I-70 in Kansas and Missouri as the Truman/Eisenhower Memorial Highway, honoring the presidents from both states. Also names the junction of US-24 and K-7 in Wyandotte County in honor of former Rep. Margaret Long.