Kansas moved quickly to get 'Hard 50' fix into law
Moving fast helped preserve sentences on pending cases.
TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas officials took unusual steps to ensure legislation repairing the state's "Hard 50" criminal sentencing law for convicted murderers took effect quickly.
Those steps included the first special edition in more than 10 years for the Kansas Register, the state's official digest for legal notices, normally published weekly. Also, Gov. Sam Brownback signed the measure the same day the Legislature delivered it — giving his staff no time to notify reporters beforehand.
"The Legislature acted quickly, and so he was determined to act quickly," Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Monday. "He also wanted to make sure we limited any window of uncertainty as to whether the 'Hard 50' will apply."
State officials wanted to move quickly in hopes of preserving the sentence in 45 cases in which defendants have yet to be sentenced or have sentences on appeal.
The law applies in cases of premeditated, first-degree murder. Previously, district court judges considered whether the factors in a crime — whether a defendant tortured a victim or shot into a crowd — warranted a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. The alternative punishment is life with parole eligibility in 25 years.
But a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June in a Virginia case said juries must determine whether mandatory minimum sentences are imposed. Kansas legislators passed a bill making the fix during a two-day special session called by Brownback last week.
The state constitution gives the Legislature's staff up to 10 days to deliver a bill to the governor. The House, where the "Hard 50" fix started, delivered it Friday, two days after it had passed. Under the constitution, the governor also has 10 days to decide a bill's fate.
Under the Register's normal publication schedule, the bill would have taken effect this Thursday. But the secretary of state's office shaved off six days by publishing a special edition immediately after Brownback signed the measure into law, making the changes effective Friday.
The last time the register published a special edition was in January 2003, when Kansas enacted a law to protect its legal claims on proceeds of the impending sale of the Health Midwest hospital system in the Kansas City area.