TOPEKA — The Kansas House on Monday advanced legislation establishing a process for those committed to state hospitals under the state’s sexually violent predators act to petition for review and release.
The House also gave first-round approval a multi-part bill that corrects an oversight in state law making first-time conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia a higher level misdemeanor than actual possession of illegal drugs. The legislation also increases penalties for strangulation in domestic violence cases, among other things.
If approved, the sexual predator bill would require an annual review of all those committed to state hospitals as sexually violent offenders to determine if they are eligible for either conditional or transitional release.
Kansas is one of a few states in which a person found to be a sexually violent offender can be held indefinitely at a state hospital after serving a prison term. To ensure the rights of those imprisoned, state law requires a judge review their mental statuses annually of those indefinitely held.
“There was an appellate court decision that questioned if the current process is satisfactory,” said Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City.
He referenced a ruling earlier this year that found judges have failed to uphold the due process rights of people involuntarily confined to Larned State Hospital.
In a pair of rulings in February, the Kansas Court of Appeals found reviews have not occurred as often as they are supposed to.
In one case, Matthew Griffin had been involuntary held at Larned since 2009. For four of the first six years he was confined, a judge didn’t review his case, as required by law. This violation of his rights was so egregious, he told the Court of Appeals, they should order him released immediately.
The Court of Appeals wrote that the Saline County District Court “was shockingly indifferent to its statutory and constitutional obligations” for six years.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, voiced support for the bill, but suggested the state needs to continue reforming the process for dealing with sexually violent predators.
“By no means does this fix the many serious issues we have with Larned State Hospital,” he said.
The House also advanced for final approval a multi-faceted bill that corrects an error making penalties for possession of paraphernalia stronger than the penalty for actual drug possession. Under the current state law, tweaked last year by the Legislature, the paraphernalia offense is a Class A misdemeanor, but drug possession is a Class B misdemeanor. The bill also adds strangulation to the crime of aggravated battery and requires law enforcement to record interviews for homicide and violet sex crimes.
Topeka Democrat Annie Kuether spoke strongly in favor of the inclusion of strangulation as one form of aggravated battery. Since many strangulation victims often don’t exhibit physical signs, it makes it hard for law enforcement to pursue those kinds of domestic violence crimes. This move strengthens punishments in domestic battery cases, she said.
Kuether has advocated for similar bills for at least three years, she said.
“I’m glad this year the Legislature is willing to take these issues up,” she said.