Kansas House moves to ease penalties for small-time drug offenders

TOPEKA — The Kansas House moved Monday to ease penalties on some small-time drug offenders and to take employers’ addresses off the state sex offender website.

House Bill 2318 would link the penalties for drug possession to the amount of drugs actually possessed.

Primarily, it would allow judges more discretion when sentencing low-level drug offenders who have a single prior conviction on their record if they either possess small amounts of drugs for personal use or sell small quantities to support their own drug habit, said Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, who carried the bill on the floor of the House.

At present, the offenses are considered “presumptive prison” on the state drug-crime sentencing grid. That means a judge who wants to give a lesser sentence has to make and state specific findings to justify a departure from the prison terms in the grid, Colloton said.

Under HB 2318, the offenses would be a “border box” on the grid.

Colloton said that would give judges more of a choice on whether to order prison time for low level repeat drug offenders, or send them to a treatment program if they think that might be more effective in addressing the problem.

In addition to potentially lowering the penalties for minor offenders, the bill would create harsher penalties for large-scale manufacturers and dealers of illegal drugs.

However, Colloton said those sentences are unlikely to come into play since those types of prosecutions are far more likely to be handled at the federal level.

The final vote was 94-23.

Also at Colloton’s urging, the House approved a bill to delete employers’ names and addresses from a state sex-offender website.

The measure was part of House Bill 2568, written to eliminate unintended consequences from last year’s passage of the Kansas version of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

The act, named for the murdered son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh, mandates strict reporting requirements for sex offenders and that the information from the reports be published by the state in an online database.

Colloton said including work addresses created a problem for businesses that hire ex offenders who have served their time in prison. She said the business people told her they were reluctant to hire those who had committed sex-related crimes, because they did not want their companies and/or addresses listed on the offender database.

The work addresses of sex offenders would still be public information and available on request, she said.

In addition, the bill also removes hospitals from a list of treatment facilities that must report to the state when they admit a registered sex offender.

Colloton said Via Christi Health in Wichita was among those who requested the change, because as written, the law would require hospitals to background-check all incoming patients for prior sex offenses.

The law was actually aimed at reporting offenders in institutions such as drug- and mental-health treatment facilities and was not intended to burden general hospitals, Colloton said.

She said the attorney general’s office has decided not to enforce the requirement on hospitals for the time being, to give the Legislature time to clarify the law.

The bill passed the House 114-2.

Both bills will now proceed to the governor. Once he has received a bill he has 10 days to veto it, sign it or allow it to become law without his signature.