Special session should be brief

Preparation, focus, can speed ‘Hard 50’ fix

By The Mercury

It would be nice if the Kansas Legislature’s “Hard 50” special session doesn’t last much more than 72 hours when it convenes Sept. 3.

The session, called by Gov. Sam Brownback at the request of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, will be held to amend the state’s “Hard 50” sentencing law so that it passes constitutional muster. Under the Kansas law, which deals with the state’s most violent individuals, judges can issue sentences that require a convict to serve a minimum of 50 years before being eligible for parole. That is at odds with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which held such mandatory minimum sentences are the responsibility of juries.

It’s unclear what impact the Supreme Court ruling will have on individuals already handed “Hard 50” sentences, but Mr. Schmidt, appropriately, doesn’t want to risk having future sentences overturned. Without the “Hard 50” law, inmates could be eligible for parole after serving 25 years.

That might not quite pose “a real and present danger to the public safety of all Kansans,” as Gov. Brownback said in calling the special session, because parole can be denied, but the governor and Legislature would err in not correcting the law at their earliest convenience. The $35,000 to $40,000 a day that the special session is expected to cost will be money well spent.

The governor’s request for the special session not only has bipartisan support, it’s also endorsed by the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, the Kansas Association of Police Chiefs, the Kansas Sheriff’s Association and the Kansas Peace Officers Association.

To his credit, Mr. Schmidt has indicated that he will have a fix for the present law in a matter of weeks. That, plus lawmakers’ determination to focus solely on correcting flaws in the legislation, should ensure that the session takes no more than three days.

It’s worth noting that legislators could, if they’re so inclined, bring up unrelated proposals. As unfortunate as that would be, it would seem unlikely given that House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, has shown little interest in allowing distractions. “Our intent,” he said, “is to limit the time and scope of the special session to this single issue.”

Good. We hope the commitment is as strong the first week of September as it is the last week of July.

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