Kan. HB 2555: Controversial bill at center of ‘Dark State' investigation likely dead in Senate

Bill would open arrest reports, search warrants

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas Senate leadership has effectively killed a bill that would open arrest reports and search warrant affidavits in Kansas.

The bill had passed the house earlier this month in a landslide vote 113-10.

But in the Senate, the bill hit a snag, and an amendment removed the arrest warrant provisions and tightened public’s ability to see search warrant affidavits.

Tuesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce and Senate Vice President Jeff King told supporters they would not put the bill on the calendar so it could advance to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.

Bruce said he decided not to put the bill on the calendar because he did not believe there was enough support.

As the Senate Majority Leader I am responsible for setting the calendar, but on this issue I may not be much help.  There were amendments that were added onto HB 2555 in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.  Once the amendments were added, neither the proponents or opponents were content with the bill.  With the overall lack of support for the measure, it was not prudent to run the measure on the Senate floor.  This does not necessarily mean the measure is dead.  Because the bill has passed one chamber, it can be conferenced upon and a suitable compromise can be reached. 

But proponents say they don’t believe a compromise without the arrest records can be reached. King did not respond to requests for an interview.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who oversees the state’s open records laws, also did not return phone calls requesting an interview.

Kansas is the only state in the country that closes most of its police records. The controversy over the closed records is highlighted by "The Dark State," a 41 Action News investigation published Monday. "The Dark State" profiles three families that either had to pay thousands of dollars to get police records or can’t get the records because they can’t afford it.

The investigation is receiving national attention.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Rubin (R-Shawnee), a retired federal judge from Shawnee, said Wednesday he is, “extremely disappointed and angry that the Senate leadership is not giving debate and a fair up and down vote."

Bob and Addie Harte of Leawood whose home was raided two years ago and had to pay $25,000 to see the search warrant records , said the public had lost.

“HB 2555 was a win/lose bill,” they wrote in an email to 41 Action News. “Unfortunately for the people of Kansas, the Government of Kansas won and the people of Kansas lost.”

State prosecutors have been the most outspoken against the bill. One of the strongest opponents, Johnson County District Attorney Steven Howe, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Opponents say that if the records are open, the publicity will taint criminal cases. But supporters say no criminal conviction in Kansas has ever been overturned because of pre-trial publicity.

Rubin is upset with the prosecutors stance and called it “hypocrisy” that they can investigate members of government to hold them accountable to public records laws, but don’t want the same transparency themselves.

Media supporters across the state expressed dismay Wednesday.

A cartoon from the Anderson County Review pictured Sen. King holding an arrest warrant and probable cause affidavit.

The cartoon caption asks “Want to know why the cops arrested your grandma? This is KANSAS, and here, it is none of your DAMN BUSINESS!”

Dane Hicks, publisher of the Anderson County Review, wrote in an editorial that the public should be able to see police records.

Ken Cornish, president of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, said it was a shame that a bill with so much public support wouldn't get a floor discussion, but that he held out hope the bill could be resurrected before the Legislature breaks its session.

"Nothing is dead until the final gavel," he said.

You can read about House Bill 2555 and its impact on three Kansas families in the 41 Action News investigation The Dark State.

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