Opinion: Bipartisanship progress is possible

As this year’s legislative session ends, it would be easy to focus on the overwhelming partisan conflict and stalemate that has become a reality in Kansas politics. However, legislative Democrats and Republicans have been able to make progress by working together on several criminal justice policies.

In April, Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law Senate Bill 458, which implements new reforms to the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act. Efforts like this aim to establish clear and fair guidelines for law enforcement when they attempt to seize private property in the investigation of a crime. According to the Office of the Governor, these reforms require “additional steps to initiate the civil asset seizure process and requires clear and convincing evidence in order to move forward with seizure.” These measures help prevent abuses of power and safeguard citizens’ property rights.

Civil forfeiture reform often brings together unlikely allies by tapping into libertarian beliefs about reining in government power and liberal commitment to creating a more just criminal justice system. This bill was passed unanimously across party lines.

The Kansas Legislature also passed into law an increase in the compensation available to crime victims in the Crime Victims Assistance Fund. The result is that victims will now be eligible for a maximum weekly compensation of $800, compared with $400 previously. Being the victim of a crime can cause many types of harm, including financial harm. State-funded assistance programs can help victims cover medical expenses, including counseling, as well as lost wages. This provides victims greater stability, which in turn can promote healing. Once again, this bill passed unanimously, earning praise from both Kelly and Attorney General Kris Kobach.

And finally, Kelly signed a “Good Samaritan” bill into law earlier this month. Senate Bill 419 provides immunity to those seeking help for themselves or others in the event of a drug overdose. Citing the importance of addressing the fentanyl crisis, legislators on both sides of the aisle came together to pass this bill unanimously.

This law reduces the hesitation to call for assistance in the case of an overdose by eliminating the fear of legal consequences. This immunity coupled with the wide public availability of Naloxone, a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose, will save lives in Kansas. Further, “Good Samaritan” laws foster a more supportive environment for individuals struggling with substance use disorders, potentially opening pathways to treatment and recovery, rather than punishment. Prior to this bipartisan win, Kansas was one of only two states that did not have legal protections for those reaching out for assistance in cases of overdose.

While we shouldn’t expect ideological foes to agree on much in terms of the politically controversial issues of the day such as reproductive rights and taxation, these three bills, passed unanimously by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by a Democratic Governor, are proof that bipartisan progress is possible in Kansas.

— Brianne Heidbreder is an associate professor of political science at Kansas State University.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.