Brendan Dzwierzynski
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Crowded prisons and “smart” approaches to crime were two key points behind the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice’s action to pass HB 2092 recently.
The bill raises the threshold for how much monetary loss constitutes a felony, from $1,000 to $1,500.
Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) opened discussion for HB 2092 by discussing the cash-strapped nature of the state and the financial implications this bill could have.
“As you come through this committee, and you hear more of these bills and more testimonies through the years, you come to appreciate the financial situation the state is in,” Whitmer said. “We are up against it in terms of prison population and capacity.”
Whitmer stressed prioritizing more violent and dangerous criminals instead of targeting smaller crimes. He added that resources should not be wasted on nonviolent criminals who are less likely to reoffend.
Whitmer said bills like HB 2092 are designed to keep the state from needing to build new correctional facilities.
“Dollars that we spend on constructing new prisons and locking people up for lower-level, nonviolent offenses are dollars that we don’t get to spend on taking the folks off the street that really need to be off the street for a long time.
“[Raising the threshold] is smart on crime, not weak on crime,” he said.
Rep. Eric Smith (R-Burlington) spoke in favor of the bill, but said it’s not going to fix the problem with “the entire system.”
“You get into that discussion, ‘Which is more important: public safety or the dollars that are going into public safety?’” Smith said. “You’re looking for that happy medium where you’re serving both. So it’s going to take a lot more than just one bill.”
Smith, a deputy sheriff for Coffey County, said he voted in favor of the bill because it is a step toward overall improvement, and that discussions on the topic have persisted for a long time.
“What moved me on that bill was that this has been a discussion for some time that for inflationary reasons, or for whatever reasons, why have we stuck with $1,000?” Smith said. “A lot of the conversations I’ve had with law enforcement are ‘When is it going to go up to $2,000, or even $5,000, that it becomes a felony?’ So the movement up to $1,500 is just a bump toward that direction.”