February 29th, 2024
L&T Opinions Page

A SECOND OPINION, The Topeka Capital-Journal


Although legislation to grant restitution to wrongfully convicted Kansans will not be the signature measure adopted during the 2018 session at the Statehouse, the bill nonetheless reveals compassion that exists among state lawmakers.

Sometimes that quality gets lost and has this year during debates regarding faith-based adoption, which led to charges such legislation is discriminatory. In addition, discussions over additional funding for education or services protecting our most vulnerable citizens placed in foster homes and nursing homes often get branded as mean-spirited efforts when lawmakers are making tough decisions on how to best disperse appropriations.

The struggles in 2018 included late moves by some conservative lawmakers to push a tax reform bill after learning of a federal tax windfall, though estimates of future revenues, though optimistic, were indeed murky. The prospect of tax relief, remember, appeals to lawmakers, particularly during an election year, in spite of the devastating crunch state services absorbed with tax cuts imposed in 2012 as part of a plan endorsed by former Gov. Sam Brownback.

Was a valuable lesson learned from that so-called experiment? Perhaps not, especially when hearing rhetoric espoused by some gubernatorial candidates, namely Republican Kris Kobach, who advocate for another round of tax cuts to curb state spending. Yet in the case of the secretary of state, the inability to comply with court orders, which resulted in a contempt ruling, could prompt the use of state funds to pay his fines. The House at least initiated action to prevent such a boondoggle.

Yes, political gamesmanship is always alive and well in Kansas, and this year, with hotly contested gubernatorial primary races within both parties, campaign accusations could make the discourse in the Legislature seem tame.

Which is why, if only for a moment, it is worthwhile to again consider a bill that will finally enable wrongfully convicted citizens monetary reimbursement for periods of their lives they will never get back after they were regretfully placed behind bars. Imagine the agony some of those who were exonerated felt as they provided testimony that influenced lawmakers to make Kansas the 33rd state in the country to pass a law granting them compensation.

The pleas presented by those wrongfully convicted shape unanimous votes rarely recorded at the Statehouse — 119-0 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate — before the bill was sent to Gov. Jeff Colyer. Within the bill, provisions were made to offer tuition assistance and health insurance to eligible recipients, while also establishing a $65,000 payout for each year served in prison and $25,000 for each year on parole, post-release supervision or the sex offender registry.

Many who are given prison sentences often continue to proclaim their innocence, but this legislation actually allows relief for those who can prove wrongful convictions. The measure places more accountability on Kansas courts to make correct rulings. In addition, it provides financial amends for wrongful convictions. Previously, citizens who gained such release from prison received no state support while transitioning back into society.

Obviously, the bipartisan measure was all about doing the right thing. Lawmakers often feel as if they are acting on such beliefs, though their adherence to partisan objectives can lead to bitter disagreement and gridlock.

This was an instance when that did not happen and deserves to be applauded. Everyone should feel good about the consensus to assist those wrongfully convicted and incarcerated in an attempt to make such citizens whole again.

GUEST COLUMN, Kim Baldwin, Kansas Farm Bureau


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