December 05th, 2023
L&T Opinions Page

A SECOND OPINION, The Topeka Capital-Journal


The tangled story of Barbara Reese, an older woman who lost thousands of dollars to the Kansas Highway Patrol some 23 years ago, is enough to make a reader’s head spin.

On one hand, Topeka resident Reese has a criminal history, which has been frequently cited by the patrol in its campaign to keep from returning the money to her.

On the other hand, the cash was seized at the time she owned a Eastside Detailing & Used Cars in Topeka. She told officers she was planning to purchase vehicles with the money. And the very next year, a Wyandotte County judge ordered the money returned to Reese.

But by that point the KHP had transferred the money to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and ignored the judge’s order.

Topeka lawmakers have taken up Reese’s cause, and last legislative session both the House and Senate passed a bill that would have compensated her $11,800. (It should be noted that amount falls short of the the amount Reese said the Highway Patrol seized — $17,600 — and the amount the patrol said it took — roughly $14,900.) It seemed to majorities in both houses like overdue justice.

But not to Gov. Jeff Colyer.

In a line-item veto, the governor struck the compensation from the state’s budget. He cited Reese’s troubled past, as well as claiming she should have pursued action against “proper parties in the proper forum.”

To put it kindly, that’s nonsense. Reese pursued action in court. The highway patrol refused to comply. She took her cause to legislators, and the highway patrol has seemed dedicated to thwarting her yet again. It has doubled down on relitigating her past and directly lobbied legislators.

Look at it this way. Kansas spends at least $16 billion a year on its budget. Reese’s compensation would be .00007 percent of that total.

Why would the highway patrol care so much about such a small amount of money? Why would the governor bother to veto such an infinitesimal sum? Why is the case of one woman so difficult to resolve? Why, when Kansas has the resources to make her whole and a court has ruled in her favor, is the case continuing?

Yes, Reese has a troubled and criminal past. No one has denied that, least of all her. She is also an African-American woman with a sixth-grade education. Given that background, it’s almost certain she has faced immense structural and societal obstacles for her entire life — some of her own making, some not.

While her case is tangled and complicated, and while one’s head may spin while following the various ins and outs, it’s difficult to avoid feeling that Barbara Reese has been profoundly wronged.

Gov. Colyer got it wrong. Next session, he and the legislature should make it right.