Topeka — Those who rape children would serve longer prison terms and face life without parole for a second conviction under proposals Atty. Gen. Phill Kline plans to submit to legislators.
Kline also wants to make it a felony to help a sex offender evade a Kansas law requiring offenders released from prison to register with law enforcement officials. Also, the attorney general plans to seek legislation designed to discourage offenders from moving to Kansas from other states.
He discussed his proposals during an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, just four days before the start of the Legislature's session. Sex offenders, particularly those who prey on children, are likely to be a big issue.
Senate leaders have worked on a similar package since November and say there's enough support to ensure passage. Also, House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, has proposed prohibiting registered sex offenders who've preyed on children from living within a half-mile of a school or licensed day care center, which will be part of larger bill dealing with sex offenders.
"I think the biggest weakness, quite honestly, is weak penalties for the initial sentencing of sex offenders," Kline said. "We've pushed through some strengthening, but we have further to go."
The attorney general said his proposal arises partly from his earlier efforts to fight crime, such as forming a task force to deal with Internet predators. His office has handled about 700 child sex crimes in the past three years.
"As we do this stuff, we learn what more needs to be done," Kline said.
Kline acknowledged his proposals would likely increase the state's prison population and could require the state to send offenders to private prisons or expand its maximum-security prison outside El Dorado. But, he said, legislators should not hesitate as a result.
But there's also strong interest among legislators in getting tougher. One reason is the case of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was raped and buried alive, whose attacker await trial on murder charges.
"There is tremendous interest in overhauling sex crime laws this year," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, one of the architects of his chamber's legislation.
Both Kline and senators want to make 25 years in prison the minimum sentence for the first conviction for raping a child under 14. But senators would impose a life-without-parole sentence for a third conviction, not the second.
Schmidt noted that under a 2004 law, second-time rapists had their sentences increased to at least 33 years in prison before being considered for release.
"These folks don't just stop," Kline said. "They continue to commit the same crime again and again and again, and we should not allow them that opportunity."
Kline said he wants to make sure offenders failing to register are returned to prison and that people who help them evade proper registration are punished. His proposal would deal with, for example, relatives who allow an offender to live with them while listing another address when registering.
Both Schmidt and Mays endorsed the idea.
"We've put the sex offender registration together for a reason," Mays said. "Anyone that assists a convicted offender in their efforts to evade it shares in the offender's guilt, particularly if there's another offense committed."
Kline said Kansas' sex offender registration law needs to be revised because its requirement to register only for 10 years is more lenient than other states. He said offenders should be required to register for the length set by the state in which they were convicted, or 10 years, whichever is longer.
The Senate proposal mandates lifetime registration.