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Archive for Friday, March 7, 2003

Key change offered in bill on drug sentencing

March 7, 2003

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— Hoping to rescue a bill that mandates treatment instead of prison for some drug offenders, a key senator promised Thursday to abandon a provision making about 300 inmates eligible for early release.

Opposition from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and some lawmakers prompted Senate leaders to pull the bill from the chamber's debate calendar last week. Sebelius has said providing treatment was good public policy but that letting some offenders out of prison was not.

Proponents of the bill's main goal -- treatment rather than prison -- made their case Thursday at an unusual caucus of all senators and members of the Kansas Sentencing Commission.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood, told the gathering that when the Senate debated the bill, he and Democratic Sen. Greta Goodwin of Winfield would offer an amendment deleting the section that would free some drug offenders. The bill was returned to committee.

Members of the Sentencing Commission told senators that people convicted of drug possession were addicts and that incarcerating them did not solve their problems.

"This is not a soft-on-crime bill. It's about the problem of addiction and how to address it," said Shawnee County District Judge Eric Rosen.

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

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