Daily Archives: May 5, 2011

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.

Democratic Party leader blasts governor and House on school funding

TOPEKA — Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon today blasted Gov. Sam Brownback and House Republican leaders over school finance.

In a Capitol news conference, Wagnon said schools are the No. 1 issue at meetings she’s held across the state over the past two months.

“As the Democrat leader for this state, I am appalled at the state funding for public schools,” Wagnon said. “As a former legislator and secretary of revenue, I understand fiscal constraints as well as anybody, but Gov. Brownback and House leadership are shortchanging our public schools and it’s time to stop.”

Wagnon said proposed cuts in education spending will take the state backward almost to the levels of funding in the 1992-1993 school year, when the current state funding formula was established.

Then, schools received $3,600 in base state aid per pupil. Funding peaked at $4,400 a student in 2008-2009.

This year, following cuts in the budget years from 2009 to 2011, Brownback is proposing to set the base aid at $3,780 for 2011-2012, Wagnon said.

Wagnon said that schools have already had to cut about 1,600 employees.

She predicted further cuts in arts, music, athletics, counseling and other programs.

She said she is especially concerned about cuts in early-childhood programs such as Parents as Teachers and prekindergarten, which she said have already been cut 17 percent.

Although both houses of the Legislature are overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, Wagnon expressed a pronounced preference for the Senate budget plan, which proposes smaller cuts to education and a lower ending balance for the year.

“Not funding early childhood education programs solely to preserve an ending balance is unconscionable,” Wagnon said. “The Senate’s approach to lower ending balances has kept some of the more egregious cuts from happening.”

Sen. McGinn: House needs to re-open community corrections funding

TOPEKA — Going into the weekend, the future of Senate Bill 6, which would toughen penalties for DUIs and create a central repository to track offenders, remains uncertain.

The House corrections and juvenile justice and Senate judiciary conference committee plans to meet again at 9 a.m. Monday to try to hash out details of the bill.

There’s been a major setback in that the House agreed to put $2 million in its budget to pay for community corrections for DUI offenders. But House budget negotiators later accepted the Senate’s position not to spend that money.

Now some are saying that House negotiators are willing to consider the funding, but their leadership thinks the Senate should bring up the issue again. The Senate, meanwhile, says that if the House wants to reverse itself, representatives need to raise their hands.

On Wednesday, Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said “For this bill to fail for that kind of petty protocol would be a travesty for public safety.”

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, chair of the Senate’s ways and means committee and that chamber’s lead negotiator on the budget conference committee, said today “It was our understanding it was going to come from the House. But the House does not want to spend any more money.”

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Federal study: ICT has 11th biggest airfare decrease since 2000

TOPEKA — Just as $5 million for the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program remains uncertain at the Statehouse, the city Wichita released a report today saying that Wichita Mid-Continent Airport boasted the country‚Äôs 11th biggest airfare decrease since 2000.

The federal study by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics also says that ICT ranked 43rd in average fare among the 100 busiest airports.

The study showed that Wichita’s average airfare in the fourth quarter of last year was $345 compared with the nationwide average of $337. Wichita’s fares are lower than those out of Tulsa and Oklahoma City but still are higher than those out of Kansas City. In 2000, a news release from the city said, the fare difference between Wichita and Kansas City was $138; that difference is now $41.

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