Kansas introduces bill to abolish death penalty

by Mick Forgey

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The death penalty may be abolished in Kansas if the Kansas Legislature passes House Bill 2129.

According to the bill, “No person shall be sentenced to death for a crime committed on or after July 1, 2015.” Rep. Steven Becker of Buhler, Kan., a member of the House of Representatives judicial committee, introduced the bill in committee on Jan. 27.

“What I want to accomplish with that bill is to replace that death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole, only this time, as I put it, this time we would really mean it,” Becker told NCR Feb. 4. Becker said the bill was authored by the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

“Now we have, what we call a life sentence, no parole for 25 years. Sometimes it’s 40 years. Or sometimes we impose the hard 50. You can’t see a parole board until 50 years,” he said. “In this bill, it’s just … period. You don’t see a parole board.”

The bill is not retroactive to cases where a death sentence has already been imposed. Instead, cases going forward will not have the option of the death penalty. The bill states that a person with a death sentence “for a crime committed prior to July 1, 2015, may be put to death pursuant to the provisions of article 40 of chapter 22 of the Kansas Statutes Annotated, and amendments thereto.”

In addition, House Bill 2129 also created the crime “aggravated murder,” which it defines as the “intentional and premeditated killing of any person” in commission of various crimes, including kidnapping and rape. The term “aggravated murder” replaces “capital murder,” reflecting the proposed elimination of capital punishment.

Becker said the first challenge for the bill will be to get it heard in committee. He said that Rep. John Barker, the committee chairman, “is non-committal about giving it a hearing.”

“My own thoughts is, I am not an opponent to the death penalty,” Barker told NCR Feb. 3. “Kansas has not executed anyone since I think 1961. I find it’s probably a very good negotiating tool for prosecutors. As the urgency, right now I don’t see there is any urgency because we have not executed anybody in 40, 50 years.”

Barker said as committee chairman, he has no position on the bill. He noted it’s possible that the committee might not get to the bill until next year.

According to the Kansas City Star, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., will participate in a news conference at the Kansas State Capital on Feb. 10, calling for Kansas to repeal the death penalty. 

[Mick Forgey is an NCR Bertelsen intern. He can be reached at mforgey@ncronline.org.]

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