Bill backed by Innocence Project would expand DNA searches to closed cases

by Mary Rupert

A bill was introduced in the Kansas Senate this week to expand DNA searches to closed cases.

The bill is supported by State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., and human rights activist Alvin Sykes, as well as by the Innocence Project.

Law enforcement agencies frequently send DNA samples to laboratories for testing, and the labs report back the results with DNA matches in the combined DNA index system.

Currently, according to the bill’s supporters, after a person is convicted, the case is closed. When DNA tests are run, the search passes over closed cases and looks for an open case to compare. But if the search includes closed cases, sometimes a match can be made where another person has already been convicted, according to the bill’s supporters, which raises questions about whether the right person is in prison.

If closed cases are excluded from the DNA searches, information that might exonerate individuals can be missed, according to supporters of the bill. A proposed change to the law would mandate notification for both closed and open cases.

Sen. David Haley

“At the end of the day, we in the legal community just want to ensure that the true perpetrators are doing the time, and that innocent people are not,” Sen. Haley said. “It’s a simple concept. Public safety is not enhanced if someone is getting away with a crime and someone else is convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.”

Sen. Haley is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which introduced the bill.

The bill also calls for authorities to share this data from both solved and unsolved cases with the prosecutors’ offices, the original defense attorney and the last known attorney of record, crime victims, surviving relatives and a local organization that litigates claims of innocence.

The bill calls for a closed case task force to develop protocols for a process to be implemented. The proposed task force would include legislators, governor’s office, attorney general, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, indigents’ defense service, attorneys, victim services, and innocence organization litigators. The task force would submit its report by Dec. 1, 2020, under the proposed bill.

If Kansas passes the bill, it would be the first one in the country, according to supporters.

“It’s a great concept, it’s really common sense,” Sen. Haley said about the bill. “Kansas will be the first to implement it, and I suspect, once it’s passed, others will follow suit.”

Sen. Haley said he appreciated Alvin Sykes bringing this concept to him.

Alvin Sykes (File photo)

“When a sample of DNA is circulated nationwide seeking a matched identification it currently skips over ‘closed cases’ because somebody, possibly innocent, is already convicted for the crime and continues automatically searching ‘open’ unsolved cases for possible matches,” Alvin Sykes said in a statement.

“The Emmett Till Justice Campaign has joined forces with the Innocence Project to prove with this ‘first-in-the-nation’ legislation that if the lab results of the DNA hits are circulated amongst the prosecutors and defense attorneys associated with both ‘closed’ and ‘open’ cases we will systemically identify countless innocent people serving time for crimes they did not commit,” Sykes said in a written statement. “Kansas SB 102 was introduced as a ‘Committee of the Judiciary’ bill by courageous justice champion Kansas Sen. David Haley this week at my personal request based on research and model legislation drafted by the Innocence Project in New York. The Emmett Till Justice Campaign will keep on keeping on turning the poison coming out of Till’s murder in 1955 into the medicine of justice for countless victims of injustices, including the falsely convicted, into the infinite future. We strongly urge all justice seeking Americans to join us in support of Kansas Senate Bill 102 and all similar legislation when it rolls into your state in the future.”

Rebecca Brown, director of policy for the Innocence Project, is supporting the proposed legislation.

“The Innocence Project is thrilled to see Kansas take the lead on a critical innocence reform that will not only help to settle claims of innocence but also help to identify people who committed serious, violent crimes,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “An overlooked corner of our criminal justice system is the ‘black hole’ of ‘hits to closed cases,’ which – absent sound policymaking – will continue to enable miscarriages of justice. We are so grateful to Senator Haley for his leadership and longtime justice advocate Alvin Sykes for bringing attention to this needed area of reform. We are hopeful that Kansas will lead the nation in this important area of reform, demonstrating how stakeholders can work together to make sure our shared justice goals are realized.”

The bill, Senate Bill 102, introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee, is online at

Analysis: The stories behind the fights brewing in the Kansas Legislature

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

Three weeks into the 2019 legislative session, the battle lines are becoming clear.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is keeping a relatively low profile (for a new governor) and sticking to her plan of triaging state needs and responding to the most urgent among them.

Toward that end, she’s told her cabinet members to make a deep-dive assessment of their agencies.

On the surface, it’s clear the budget crisis that crippled the state in the last several years of former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration did real damage.

But beyond the obvious need for more social workers in the state’s troubled foster care system and more snowplow operators at the Kansas Department of Transportation, Kelly needs to know more precisely where the lack of personnel and expertise is the most consequential.

What the data reveal will dictate her priorities for the next three years.

On the legislative front, Kelly is steeling herself for an early confrontation with Republican leaders on the tax-relief bill they’re rushing to her desk.

The measure that Senate President Susan Wagle is personally shepherding through the process would reduce revenues in the budget year that starts July 1 by about $191 million a year.

That is a very rough estimate. Lawmakers really don’t know how much it would cost.

Whatever its price tag, the bill — aimed mostly at reducing the tax burden on large multinational corporations — alarms Kelly. It also concerns many lawmakers, including some who will, for political reasons, probably vote for it.

They’re concerned the bill and the recession many believe is in the offing could plunge the state back into a budget crisis like the one triggered by Brownback’s tax-cutting experiment. He promised those cuts would jolt the Kansas economy into hyperdrive. Instead, they tanked state revenues.

From a political standpoint, Wagle and the Republicans have a strong hand. They’ve got backing from the powerful Kansas Chamber and some its most influential members.

A top executive from Spirit AeroSystems — a big employer in the state’s Wichita-centered aviation industry — recently told lawmakers they need to “clearly define” how the state will account for recent changes in the federal tax code and do it quickly.

Also, because the bill would “return” money collected from state payers only because of those federal changes, GOP leaders could charge Kelly with breaking a campaign promise in the event she refuses to sign the bill. A promise not to raise taxes.

Still, based on her specific request that lawmakers refrain from making any major tax changes, most expect Kelly will veto the bill.

As one moderate Republican lawmaker put it: “This is purely a test. She needs to show some spine.”

That means Kelly shouldn’t expect moderates who will likely join Democrats in supporting her on Medicaid expansion and public school funding to have her back on this issue. Not this early in the session.

They understand that voting against tax relief would likely guarantee an immediate postcard campaign to soften the ground for well-funded conservative challengers in the 2020 Republican legislative primaries.

In her veto message, Kelly will probably say that the state might be able to afford some modest tax relief down the road. But not this much, this soon.

It’s also becoming clear that GOP leaders have no intention of dropping their long-standing opposition to Medicaid expansion. One indication of that occurred very much behind the scenes this week.

Republican leaders wanted the governor’s expansion bill introduced in the House health committee for a couple of reasons. One, they had it stacked with expansion opponents. Two, it’s a non-exempt committee, meaning bills it hasn’t worked by the mid-point of the session are effectively dead.

So to ensure that the expansion bill remains a viable bargaining chip until the end of the session, supporters introduced it in the House Appropriations Committee. Because it’s responsible for hammering out the budget, that committee is exempt from the so-called turnaround deadline.

That’s just one example of how the maneuvering on contentious issues often occurs below the surface and out of public view.

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
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Backers of Kansas Medicaid expansion pack hearing, but can they change policy?

Supporters of Medicaid expansion packed a Kansas Senate hearing room on Wednesday. (Photo by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service)

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

When it comes to packing Statehouse hearings, few groups fill a room more reliably than those pushing for Medicaid expansion.

What they’re less good at, at least so far, is convincing lawmakers and a governor to expand Medicaid eligibility to another 150,000 low-income Kansans.

They came close last year. Lawmakers passed an expansion bill, but came a few votes short of overriding then-Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto.

Again this year, they face opposition from conservatives — notably Gov. Jeff Colyer — who still object to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Those forces worry about bloated government services and asking taxpayers to foot health care costs for a larger group of people.

Expansion supporters launched their 2018 effort Wednesday, flooding the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee with testimony from 140 individuals and organizations.

It came from doctors, hospital administrators, business leaders and every-day Kansans like Amy Houston, who thought it appropriate the hearing was on Valentine’s Day.

“I have the compassion, hope and love that I’m going to give you this message and you’re going to accept it and not turn me away,” Houston said.

A small business owner from Mulvane, Houston talked about struggling to maintain health insurance during her nine-year battle with cancer.

Randy Peterson, CEO of Stormont Vail Health in Topeka, warned of hospital closings without the additional federal money that expansion would bring.

“These dollars could be the very margin for these hospitals to remain open,” Peterson said.

Sheldon Weisgrau, the director of a pro-expansion coalition funded by several Kansas health philanthropies, touted studies that document the economic benefits of expansion.

“In Colorado, the gross domestic product has increased by more than 1 percent as a result of expansion,” Weisgrau said. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but an equivalent increase in Kansas could be $2 billion of additional economic growth.”

Though outnumbered, expansion opponents — most representing conservative groups with ties to the Koch brothers — pushed back. They argued that expansion was little more than an expensive new entitlement for people who may not deserve taxpayer-funded health coverage.

“These adults don’t have disabilities,” said Gregg Phister, government affairs director for the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability. “Most of them are without children and don’t work a full-time, year-round job.”

Phister said expansion has “been a disaster” in many of the 32 states that have adopted it due to enrollment that has swamped projections and driven up costs.

Asked by Sen. Ed Berger, a Hutchinson Republican, whether any expansion state had reversed course, Phister said none had but some were discussing it.

Jeff Andersen, acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the state’s lead Medicaid agency, detailed the Colyer administration’s opposition to expansion.

Among other things, Andersen said continued efforts by the Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress to repeal Obamacare should give Kansas lawmakers pause.

Most immediately concerning, he said, are questions about whether the federal government will continue to pay 90 percent of expansion costs.

“Yet this month, our governor has meetings scheduled with leaders in Washington … to get a better handle and guidance on where the feds are going,” Andersen said.

Weisgrau said GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare will continue to be thwarted by Republican governors in expansion states “lobbying to keep it.”

“Don’t listen to those people who continually say ‘no’ and offer no alternatives,” he told members of the committee, who are expected to vote on the bill Monday.

Currently, KanCare eligibility is limited to children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and seniors in need of long-term care who have exhausted their financial resources. Parents are eligible only if they earn less than a third of the federal poverty level, less than $10,000 for a four-person family.

Single adults without children currently are not eligible no matter their income. Expansion would extend eligibility to all Kansans who earn up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or about $17,000 annually for an individual and approximately $34,000 for a family of four.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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