Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, spoke in support of a bill Wednesday closing existing loopholes in stalking statute to protect minors from predators. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Rep. Megan Lynn said she knows firsthand the shame, embarrassment and fear stemming from sexual assault suffered as a minor.
Driven by her past as a child victim of sexual assault, the Olathe Republican encouraged Kansas House members Wednesday to pass a bill that would ensure those accused of stalking a minor face a harsher penalty. The body responded in support, passing the measure unanimously.
Advocates of the bill say it would expand on and close a loophole present in Jodi’s Law, which broadened the definition of stalking and made it easier to prosecute. Currently, those caught stalking a minor face a charge of reckless stalking, a misdemeanor in Kansas only punishable by up to a year in prison.
“Today, silence, shame, pain is not going to be how this story ends,” Lynn said. “We must now strengthen Kansas law so that in the future, this crime can be properly charged. We will not let this happen again. Not to our sons, not to our daughters, not to our most promising and precious resource, the beautiful children of Kansas.”
The measure, now advanced to the Senate for review, would raise the punishment for stalking of a minor to a felony and remove a clause that requires the victim to be aware of the stalking for the act to be a crime. It is one of eight bills debated on the House floor Wednesday.
Representatives passed seven of the proposed measures with little disagreement and sent one back to the committee for further work.
The fight for increased penalties for stalking a minor arose from a recent case in which a Johnson County teacher admitted to taking more than 200 pictures of a 10-year-old female student. Despite coming clean about the photos and his sexual fascination with the minor, the teacher only faces the charge of reckless stalking.
Lynn said the misdemeanor charge is a clear error in the criminal statute.
Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Democrat from Lenexa and cosponsor of the bill, recalled a conversation with the family of a child who had been stalked.
“This legislation is evidence of what can be achieved when we listen to the people and identify an area for improvement,” Woodard said. “In order to protect the young people of Kansas and to ensure victims can seek justice, I ask that you join me in voting for HB2071.”
The bill was one of four to come before the body with the backing of the House Judiciary Committee.
One committee-endorsed measure would prohibit any agency subject to an audit by the legislative division of post-audit from charging a fee for any records requested. A second bill would authorize the crime victims compensation board to waive application time restrictions for a victim of a sexually violent crime seeking to receive compensation for mental health services. Both passed with little pushback from either side of the aisle.
The last bill stemming from the House Judiciary Committee — the only bill to face significant opposition, passing 70-54 — would move responsibilities from the secretary of state’s office to that of the attorney general.
The changes give the attorney general oversight of the state’s confidentiality program for victims of domestic violence, as well as all things relating to the charitable organizations and solicitations act.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, voted in favor of the measure but reiterated a concern he voiced during the committee hearing on the bill.
“We continue to place too much power and authority in the attorney general,” Carmichael said. “The registration of charitable organizations can be handled and has been handled by the secretary of the state. We really ought to think in the long-term, is it really a good idea to put so much authority in the attorney general?”
The House also passed two criminal justice-related bills. One measure would extend the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission’s work by a year and limit the scope of study to community supervision of offenders and diversion agreement issues.
The bill would also add a public defender to the panel to be appointed by the Kansas State Board of Indigent Defense Services. The committee would again submit a report in December to both the governor and Legislature.
A successful amendment to the bill by Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, will make the bill effective upon publication into the Kansas register rather than July 1.
“This will provide the commission an additional couple of months to the work that they have to do and, I’m sure they can use it,” Jennings said.
A bill authorizing legislative assistants and committee assistants to accept gifts under $150 each session was sent back to the House Committee on Elections for further work.
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