State legislators are headed back to Topeka for a special legislative session on Sept. 3.
Gov. Sam Brownback called the special session at the request of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who said a June 17 U.S. Supreme Court decision could return dangerous criminals to the streets.
The decision, Alleyne v. United States, renders Kansas’ “Hard 50” law unconstitutional. The state law allows judges to sentence people convicted of first degree murder to a minimum of 50 years in prison before they can seek parole, but the Supreme Court ruled that juries, and not judges, have the final say in determining mandatory minimum sentences.
Schmidt said the constitutional defect in Kansas law can be fixed by adopting a simple procedural fix in a special session.
“The ‘Hard 50’ sentence is a vital public safety tool that has been in place for more than 10 years,” Brownback said in a press release. “It is intended to remove the most dangerous and violent killers from society for at least 50 years. The sudden absence of the ‘Hard 50’ sentence poses a real and present danger to the public safety of all Kansans.”
Several law enforcement and legal agencies expressed their support for a special reconvening of the legislature, including the Kansas Association Chiefs of Police, the Kansas Sheriffs Association, and the Johnson County District Attorney.
State officials anticipate that the special session will be completed within two days, or no later than Sept. 5.
While there appears to be broad bipartisan support for changes to the ‘Hard 50’ sentencing law, Sen. Anthony Hensley, minority leader of the Senate, voiced his concerns that additions to the session are “spiraling out of control before it starts.”
In particular, Hensley balked at an addition that seeks approval of 19 Browback appointments including judges.
“This special session is an orchestrated decoy,” he said. “It isn’t about being tough on crime. It’s about Gov. Brownback sneaking in his secret appointee to the Court of Appeals as fast and with as little public scrutiny as possible.”