Bill inspired by sealed abortion case approved

? The House overwhelmingly approved a bill Friday limiting courts’ power to seal documents and close hearings, a measure inspired by two sealed, abortion-related lawsuits before the Kansas Supreme Court.

The House’s 122-1 vote sent the bill to the Senate.

An attorney involved in the abortion cases has said the bill jeopardizes the courts’ independence. But the measure inspired little debate in the House, and the only member to vote against it was Rep. Geraldine Flaharty, a Wichita Democrat.

The bill requires courts to conduct hearings before sealing documents or closing court proceedings. Judges would have to declare publicly why they took such action, and they would have to give notice of their plans to parties involved in the case.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, the anti-abortion Olathe Republican who sponsored the bill, acknowledged that it was a response to the two Supreme Court cases, which have been sealed since they were filed last year.

One case is a lawsuit by a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park against Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline.

The second was filed by the attorney general against a judge who oversaw an investigation of the Planned Parenthood clinic and one in Wichita operated by Dr. George Tiller, one of a few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortions.

Crime bills

A stronger anti-stalking law and two other crime bills won House approval, all on votes of 123-0.

The measures went to the Senate.

The anti-stalking bill is a response to last year’s slaying of Jodi Sanderholm, a 19-year-old Arkansas City resident.

Prosecutors allege that Justin Thurber, the 24-year-old charged with capital murder in her death, stalked young women for years before her death. His trial is scheduled to begin June 24, and the state is seeking the death penalty.

Victims’ rights groups and law enforcement officials argue that the current law is difficult to enforce.

It requires repeated, intentional and malicious harassment. Also, the alleged stalker must make a credible threat creating reasonable fear in another person.

The measure would redefine stalking as intentional or reckless behavior that causes a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a family member.

Another bill approved by the House would limit district judges’ discretion in sentencing people who commit serious crimes so that fewer of them can be put on probation instead of sent to prison.

The third measure House members passed increases the penalties for stealing Department of Corrections uniforms, badges or identification cards if doing so compromises prison security.

Teacher bonuses

The House rejected a bill allowing school districts to give bonuses of up to $1,000 to high school math and science teachers.

The vote Friday was 63-59 against the measure.

Opponents of the bill included the Kansas-National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Critics said the bill would permit districts to bypass normal negotiations with teachers over their pay to offer the bonuses.

“That’s a slap in the face,” said Rep. L. Candy Ruff, a Leavenworth Democrat who voted against the bill. “If you want to be serious about paying schoolteachers money, you put it on the table with everything else.”

But supporters say the measure was an attempt to help the state keep math and science teachers when there are shortages of qualified classroom instructors.

“We can continue to wish away our problem and fiddle and do nothing and be proud of ourselves, or we can take a small step to help solve the problem,” said House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand, a Courtland Republican.