Archive for Thursday, April 2, 2009

Legislators pass bill on sexual predators

April 2, 2009

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— Kansas legislators have approved a bill limiting the number of violent sexual predators the state may house in a single county while they wait to be released from custody.

The measure blocks Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ plan to expand a treatment program for predators awaiting release at Osawatomie State Hospital. The number of such predators would be capped at eight per county, the exact number now living in Osawatomie.

The House approved the measure unanimously last week and the Senate passed it Tuesday, also unanimously. Senators had previously approved the same proposal in a different bill.

Sebelius wanted to move an additional four predators to the Osawatomie hospital after July 1, bringing the total to 12. Area legislators worried that if Sebelius were successful, the program would keep growing.

“These are people who are hard-wired differently than everybody else,” said Sen. Pat Apple, a Louisburg Republican who pushed the legislation. “Can you really reform this group? I don’t know.”

The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which operates the Osawatomie hospital program, had argued previously that its expansion was necessary because the agency had no other viable homes for prerelease predators. But SRS officials say they’re comfortable with the bill and are exploring options.

As for Sebelius’ views on the bill, spokeswoman Beth Martino said Wednesday, “She will take a careful look at it.”

SRS has about 180 predators in its custody under a 1994 state law allowing them to be confined for treatment indefinitely even after they have been released from prison. A jury must conclude that they are violent predators, are likely to commit more crimes and suffer from a mental abnormality.

The predators are housed at Larned State Hospital until they make enough progress in treatment to become eligible for the Osawatomie program.

Minimum wage

Legislative negotiators agreed Wednesday on the final version of a bill raising Kansas’ lowest-in-the-nation minimum wage.

The compromise raises the wage to $7.25 an hour in January 2010 from the current $2.65. The federal minimum wage will increase to $7.25 in July, from its current $6.55.

Legislative leaders didn’t know when the House and Senate would consider the compromise.

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