The law criminalizes the penalty for failing to pay the fee associated with registering as a criminal offender. Specifically, if the fee isn’t paid within 15 days of an offender’s registration date, the nonpayment is treated as a class A misdemeanor; the second time it is a level 9 person felony, which could result in longer sentences and prison time for some offenders.
Meanwhile, the budget passed by the Legislature includes nearly $12.5 million in budget cuts to the Department of Corrections – cuts the Secretary of Corrections has warned will undermine the agency’s ability to effectively supervise offenders out on parole and place the public at greater risk to violent crime.
But another, maybe more distressing concern with this bill is that it is in direct violation of the bill of rights outlined in the Kansas Constitution. Article 16 of the Kansas Bill of Rights directly and simply reads, “No person shall be imprisoned for debt, except in cases of fraud.”
Under the new law, an offender who fails to pay a nominal fee to register as a sex offender could end up in prison for an administrative fee designed to cover the cost of maintaining an offender registry. The revised law is unconstitutional and effectively re-creates the debtors’ prison of old.
It is politically popular to pass laws that place further restrictions on offenders, increase penalties for crimes and create new criminal laws that ensnare those who mean the public harm. Yet, for however popular such laws might be, they never should violate the U.S. or Kansas constitutions.
Furthermore, lawmakers who enthusiastically support such expansion of state law enforcement should be forthcoming to their constituents that those changes will result in additional costs to taxpayers by way of more criminal prosecutions and the construction of additional prison space or supervision staff.
And don’t overlook the governor’s role. Earlier this legislative session, Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a bill that would have allowed Kansans to hold poker runs, raffles and gaming tournaments to raise money for charity and nonprofit organizations. His reason: Such a change violated the Kansas Constitution’s provisions on lotteries and gambling.
The unfortunate truth is that if a bill might be politically popular, this crop of lawmakers will pass it and the governor will sign it with little thought to its cost or concern about whether it violates the guiding principles our constitution.
— The Hutchinson News