Archive for Monday, May 5, 2014

Rep. Rubin’s bill sheds light on police records

May 5, 2014

John Rubin

John Rubin

— A bill that supporters say will give Kansas residents more information about law enforcement activities and bring the state in line with openness in other states is headed to Gov. Sam Brownback.

Legislators gave strong support to the bill late Friday as they ended the 2014 session, passing it 40-0 in the Senate and 123-1 in the House.

Affidavits used to support arrest warrants and search warrants would be available to the public, including the media, upon request. The bill also would reverse a state law dating to the 1980s that closed the records to the public unless otherwise ordered by a court to be unsealed.

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican who sponsored the bill, said after the House vote that law enforcement should be held to the same level of accountability and transparency that is expected from other governmental agencies.

“It goes a long way toward openness,” Rubin said. “We will no longer be the outlier.”

The Kansas Press Association fought for several decades for the same changes — to no avail. Executive director Doug Anstaett said Friday was a “great day for open government in Kansas,” and credited Rubin for working with all parties in developing the final bill.

“We also want to commend our newspaper editorial writers for making a strong case for this legislation across our state and also the prosecutors who stepped forward, understood the need and helped us come to a compromise that, while not perfect, will result in more scrutiny of law enforcement and our system of justice,” he said.

Legislators ironed out concerns that prosecutors raised about the increased workload required to produce the documents and any potential harm to victims, informants or ongoing investigations.

The bill allows prosecutors to seek to have the records related to arrests and search warrants sealed or redacted to protect sensitive information, but still make the documents available in a timely manner.

Rep. Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Democrat, said the bill was a good compromise.

“It will probably get tweaked a little bit through the years but I think all in all it’s a good outcome,” Pauls said.

Rubin sought the bill because of an incident in Leawood, where a home was searched on the suspicion that hydroponic equipment used for a child’s science project was being used to grow marijuana. The parents were ordered to the floor while their children watched as officers search the home.

The couple was never told the reasons behind the search because the probable cause documents were closed and they had to spend a year in court trying to get the information.

Initially, the House rejected the bill because it was attached to another measure never debated by the chamber that sought to streamline the appeals process for defendants sentenced to death. House and Senate negotiators separated the two issues, dropping the appeals changes, and forwarding the records bill that also had minor changes to the speedy trial statutes.

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