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Lawmakers Recommend Fix For KS Hard 50 Law

A legislative committee is recommending a bill to amend the state's so-called Hard 50 sentencing law. The changes would allow juries to decide if convicted murderers deserve 50 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Under the old system, judges would decide if a crime warranted the harsher sentence of 50 years without parole. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently said judges can't make those decisions.

The bill would also apply some changes retroactively to past crimes. Some attorneys told the committee that it would be unconstitutional to do that.

Lawrence attorney Jessica Glendening says the law will be challenged in court if it’s made retroactive, and that could lead to costly new appeals. She says there is a parole board that decides when it’s safe to release an inmate, so they don’t need to try to make the changes retroactive.

“I believe we can rely on those people to ensure that a prisoner is not released too soon," she says. "It seems unnecessary to go through this extensive and expensive process to re-sentence these prisoners.”

Attorney General Derek Schmidt says litigation is possible. but he says making the changes retroactive gives the state the best chance of preserving past Hard 50 sentences.

“That uncertainly is going to be sorted out in individual cases that are litigated over the next many years," he says. "And I think that reality is unavoidable.”

Lawmakers will take up the bill during a special session that starts next week.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.