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Archive for Friday, February 28, 2003

Drug treatment bill on hold

February 28, 2003

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— A bill mandating treatment rather than incarceration for some drug offenders was pulled off the Senate debate calendar Thursday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, whose panel sponsored the measure, said it needed more Democratic support -- including from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- to make Senate approval likely.

"I think it's important for the governor to take a public position," said Vratil, R-Leawood. "What we're saying is, if you want it passed, come out for it."

Sebelius was unavailable Thursday to comment on the bill, said spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran-Basso.

Billed partly as a money-saving initiative, the measure would allow judges to place nonviolent offenders with a single conviction for drug possession in community treatment programs rather than prison.

Offenders would pay for their own treatment, although some committee members predicted the state would have to contribute some money.

Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, said the bill's financial impact would be studied while it is off the calendar.

If the bill becomes law, about 300 current inmates would become eligible for transfer into drug treatment programs.

Sen. Derek Schmidt opposed the bill in committee and tried unsuccessfully to replace it with an alternative. He said the state could save money by putting people convicted of simple drug possession into minimum security prisons rather than medium- or maximum-security facilities.

But putting them into treatment is a misguided idea, Schmidt said. He recommended that the Senate wait until Sebelius makes her views known.

"I think we're extremely reluctant to proceed with the bill unless the governor wants it," said Schmidt, R-Independence.

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