News Columns & Blogs

House passes sex offender bill

TOPEKA — The House today advanced a measure to bring the state into compliance with national reporting standards on sex offenders, despite some argument over the bill slightly lowering sentences for first-time violations of reporting requirements.

Senate Bill 37 brings Kansas into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law named after the son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh. In 1981, Adam, 6, was abducted from a Florida mall and murdered.

The federal act sets national standards for registering and publicizing the names, addresses and workplaces of sex offenders and others who commit crimes against children.

By bringing Kansas law into compliance, the state will become eligible for $300,000 in federal funding to improve law enforcement access to offender databases, said Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, who carried the bill on the floor.

The bill also tightens reporting requirements for criminals on the registry.

At present, offenders have 10 days to report to law enforcement when they move, change jobs or go to a new school. The bill shortens that to three days.

The one hangup for more conservative members of the House was a provision that reduces the presumptive sentence for a first offense of failing to report.

Rep. Joe Patton, R-Topeka, offered an amendment to send the bill back to a House-Senate conference committee.

He wanted to keep the sentencing on first offenses where it is and quoted a Corrections Department estimate that the state would need about 40 prison beds to accommodate that.

“What that means is, if we don’t fix this, there’s 40 sex offenders that we don’t know where they’re at,” he said. “They’re not reporting and they’re wandering around in the neighborhood.”

Colloton, however, said the idea was to shorten sentences for one-time violators who might report a little late due to personal issues or mental problems, while saving about $1 million to lengthen prison terms for those who fail to report for six months or more.

She said that’s the approach the Kansas Bureau of Investigation recommended as the best use of resources.

“They want to go after the people who are trying to evade detection,” Colloton said. “Those are the sex offenders we’ve got to get.”

Patton’s motion failed 32-82.

Several representatives initially voted against the full bill, but then changed their votes. The final tally was 118-0 in favor of passage.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to pass easily.