Topeka House and Senate negotiators hit an impasse Tuesday over a bill mandating tougher penalties for sex offenders - especially those victimizing children - but one of the chief negotiators said an agreement will be reached soon.
The impasse developed over the two chambers having different ideas for dealing with adults convicted of any of seven violent sex crimes against anyone under age 14, including rape, aggravated sodomy and sexual exploitation of a child.
The Senate approved a minimum 25-year sentence for a first conviction, although trial judges could impose a lesser penalty in cases with "substantial and compelling" reasons. The House allowed for the same sentence, but left it up to prosecutors to decide whether to seek it.
Under the House's version, if the defendant is found guilty, the jury then would consider aggravating and mitigating evidence before imposing the sentence.
The three senators and three House members making up the negotiating committee decided the sentencing issue was a sticking point and moved on to other legislation. They expect to return to the bill Wednesday.
"It was kind of an issue of prosecutorial discretion versus judicial discretion," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike O'Neal, lead negotiator for his chamber.
Normally, a conference committee report must be signed by all six negotiators before being presented to the Legislature. By going through the step of "agreeing to disagree," it takes only four negotiators to make the report a reality.
O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said he thinks five negotiators will go along with the Senate version.
Asked whether an agreement can be reached, O'Neal said, "We're not going to adjourn without Jessica's Law."
He was referring to Florida's "Jessica's Law," named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old girl killed last year by a convicted sex offender, which prompted similar legislation in Kansas.
Under the bill, once they are released after serving every day of their sentences, offenders face a lifetime of parole and wearing a Global Positioning System monitoring bracelet so their movements can be tracked.
All other offenders, such as first-time convictions in which the victim is older than 14, face lifetime parole when released.
Those convicted a second time, no matter the victim's age, face 40 years, and third-time offenders get life with no possibility of parole. Convictions before the law goes on the books are counted toward the total.
Corrections officials estimate the increased penalties would generate the need for an additional 1,000 prison beds by 2016.
When the Senate considered the House-passed sex offenders bill, it substituted its bill and added language allowing the operation of private prisons in Kansas under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. Earlier this year, the House gutted a Senate bill on the topic.
O'Neal said private prisons could be another sticking point with negotiators who didn't get to the issue during their talks Tuesday.