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Archive for Friday, April 4, 2003

Drug-sentencing bill goes to Sebelius

April 4, 2003

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— A bill that will sentence some drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison won Senate approval and headed to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday.

On a 27-13 vote, the Senate accepted a version amended by the House to ease concerns over funding and the bill's potential for decriminalizing drug possession.

The measure would require judges to place some people convicted of simple drug possession into community-based treatment centers, which could include faith-based programs, instead of prison.

People with prior convictions for selling or manufacturing drugs or with histories of violent crime would not be eligible.

Court services would evaluate offenders before placing them in treatment, and the Department of Corrections would evaluate the programs. The state would pay for treatment, which the Kansas Sentencing Commission estimated would cost $9 million in the next fiscal year.

Proponents said the measure would free up space in Kansas' state prisons, which are near capacity. Treatment would be less expensive than building new state prisons, they said.

House members amended the bill to provide that treatment would be discontinued and offenders would go to prison if no state funding were available.

The House also rewrote the bill so that offenders automatically will go to prison if they failed drug treatment twice and were convicted of drug possession a third time.

Opponents had worried that drug offenders would have no reason to stop possessing illegal substances if they faced no prison time.

As originally written, the bill drew strong opposition from many legislators and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius because some 300 inmates would have been released when it became law.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood, agreed to the provision's removal, ensuring its passage.

Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran-Basso said Sebelius was pleased with the changes, especially the removal of the provision that would have released some inmates.

"I'm certain that her support won't change," Corcoran-Basso said.

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