The 40-year prison sentence and the death penalty were hot issues among Kansas legislators and members of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce at the chamber's "Eggs and Issues" breakfast in the Lawrence Holidome Saturday morning.
Lawmakers who attended the breakfast, the second in a series sponsored by the chamber's Government Affairs Committee, were Reps. Jessie Branson, D-Lawrence; Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence; John Solbach, D-Lawrence; Joann Flower, R-Oskaloosa; and Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence. About 70 people showed up to hear the legislators address issues raised by the audience.
The Kansas House passed a measure Friday that would allow judges to sentence defendants convicted of premeditated murder to 40 years in prison with no chance of parole. Branson and Charlton voted for the measure, the day after voting against a death penalty amendment, which failed in the House Thursday.
FLOWER stressed her concern for corrections officers in the Kansas State Penitentiary, saying the 40-year sentence would put them in a vulnerable position. Because the prisoners sentenced under the law would have no chance of parole, they would have nothing to lose by becoming violent, she said.
"I favor the death penalty," Flower said, although she would support a 25-year mandatory sentence over the current bill.
Winter, a longtime opponent of the death penalty, disagreed. Corrections officers understand the danger they face and receive hazardous work compensation, he said.
"When guards go to work in correctional facilities, they know they're going to work with dangerous folks. . . . Nationwide, only three percent of people on death row have been executed. If you want to see violence, put a death row in your prison. These are people with no hope. These are people with nothing to lose."
WINTER supports the 40-year sentence measure. "I hope the governor signs it in into law," he said.
Solbach also voiced his opposition to the death penalty. "In the five-state region, Kansas is the only state without the death penalty and yet we have the lowest murder rates," he said.
The property tax issue also surfaced throughout the meeting. All five legislators agreed that some kind of tax relief was necessary but that but nothing feasible had been proposed.
"We simply cannot get the data upon which to base a classification amendment," Mrs. Branson said. "It really just isn't moving."
Solbach agreed, adding, "Nobody is going to vote on these until we see how it will affect each district that each legislator comes from."
Solbach said he does not expect to see such data before the end of the legislative session.
THE LEGISLATORS seemed apprehensive about the so-called Kansas Proposition 13, Gov. Mike Hayden's proposal to roll back property taxes by 20 percent in 1991 from 1989 levels and place a lid on property taxes.
"Frankly, the cure there is worse than the disease," Winter said.
Another issue of concern was the state lottery. "If we made everybody buy a ticket once a day, maybe we could get rid of the property tax," Winter said with a laugh.
Several of the legislators expressed personal dissatisfaction with the lottery, but said they would support it in the Legislature because of the programs funded through lottery revenue.
Flower said she opposes the lottery because her district receives very little of the money generated by the game.
Mrs. Branson was adamant in her opposition to the lottery, saying, "I felt it was completely wrong for the state to generate revenue by exploiting low-income people. And that's exactly what it's done."
The chamber has scheduled two more Eggs and Issues breakfasts during the current legislative session, on March 2 and April 12.