Topeka The House gave final approval today to a bill that would create a ``hard life'' sentence for some murders, a day after members rejected a capital punishment proposal.
Representatives passed the measure, 111-9. It would allow judges to sentence defendants convicted of premeditated murder to 40 years in prison with no chance of parole, instead of making such people eligible for parole after 15 years in prison.
Douglas County Reps. Jessie Branson, D-Lawrence, Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, and David Miller, R-Eudora all voted for the measure. Rep. John Solbach, D-Lawrence, was absent from the vote.
The Senate approved the same measure last year, but the bill must return to that chamber before it would go to Gov. Mike Hayden. Normally, in such a case, the return is merely a procedural step, but Senate President Bud Burke, R-Leawood, said Thursday that he wants senators to study the bill to see whether it has any technical flaws.
THE HOUSE tentatively approved the 40-year bill Thursday after it rejected, 67-57, an amendment that would have made death by lethal injection the possible penalty for some murders. The debate took nearly four hours.
Branson, Charlton and Solbach voted against the death penalty amendment, while Miller supported it. All Douglas County representatives supported the 40-year bill Thursday.
The amendment failed because eight representatives who have supported capital punishment in the past voted against it. Most of them cited Senate opposition to the death penalty and said they wanted the 40-year bill to pass because it was the toughest penalty the Legislature will approve.
Speaker Jim Braden, R-Clay Center, said he does not plan to attempt to bring another death penalty measure to the House floor for debate.
``I told the governor six weeks ago that I doubted whether there would be enough votes in the House to have it passed,'' Braden said. ``It was a true up or down vote on the death penalty.''
IN A STATEMENT, Hayden criticized lawmakers as out of touch with the majority of Kansans, who polls have indicated support the death penalty. He did not say whether he would sign the 40-year bill.
``He's going to study it,'' said Hayden's deputy press secretary, Frank Ybarra.
Hayden made reinstatement of the death penalty a visible issue during his 1986 campaign, and he has announced that he will seek a second term this year.
``Frankly, I am not surprised at anything the Legislature would do at this point,'' Hayden said. ``Despite the actions of the Legislature, I remain a strong supporter of capital punishment.''
The House last voted on the death penalty bill in 1987, passing it, 71-53. That year the Senate rejected it, 22-18. The Senate also rejected a death penalty bill by the same vote last year. Hayden vowed to push again this session for reinstatement of capital punishment.
Twenty-three members of the House were not elected until after the 1987 vote, and 17 of those representatives voted against the capital punishment amendment.
ONLY SIX Democrats supported the amendment, while 50 Democrats voted against it. Fifty-one of the House's 68 Republican members supported the amendment.
The past death penalty supporters who switched votes were: George Dean, D-Wichita; Herman Dillon, D-Kansas City; Clyde Graeber, R-Leavenworth; Lee Hamm, D-Pratt; Mary Jane Johnson, D-Kansas City; Jack Lacey, D-Oswego; Dennis Spaniol, R-Wichita, and Larry Turnquist, D-Salina.
Graeber is a strong supporter of the death penalty, and he has sponsored legislation in the past. He said that if he couldn't get the death penalty, he at least wanted to send to Hayden a 40-year bill.
``We have an opportunity today that we might not have after today,'' Graeber told his colleagues. ``This is not easy for me because I really am emotionally involved in this, and I believe the death penalty can be a deterrent.''
Hamm said: ``I'm tired of the game-playing.''
HOWEVER, Braden said he didn't buy the argument presented by Graeber and the others.
``It's apparent to me that those people are not going to vote for a death penalty,'' Braden said.
The 40-year sentence bill was introduced by a group of senators, led by Dick Bond, R-Overland Park, and passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. Bond is opposed to the death penalty and championed the proposal as a tough alternative to capital punishment.
However, the House Federal and State Affairs Committee amended the bill to allow a 25-year sentence for premediated murder, with death penalty supporters arguing that a 40-year sentence gave convicted criminal no hope, making them more prone to violence. The House voted, 93-30, to return the bill to its original form.