TOPEKA—A recent bill introduced in the House would send offenders straight to jail if they flee from the scene and are found violating drinking and driving laws.
Currently Kansas law gives the officer the choice of whether or not to take someone to jail if they are pulled over and accused of a misdemeanor. This new bill would put that power in the hands of a prosecutor if the offender is accused of violating both laws.
Bill 2064 was recommended on Feb. 7 by the committee to be passed as it was amended by the Committee on Judiciary. The bill was introduced to the House on Jan. 23 and referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
Under the law, first and second DUIs, as well as fleeing from police, are considered misdemeanors. The bill’s purpose is to make sure that an officer isn’t in charge of arrest decisions. Proposers of the bill believe this will keep dangerous drivers off the road and set a precedent to stop drinking and driving.
Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) expressed concern over the bill, saying “if an officer has sufficient enough evidence for a DUI then the person should go straight to jail or in front of a judge without having to also flee the scene.” He is worried that by proposing that the two must be together in order for the arrest to become mandatory, the police will not crack down as much on drunk driving.
Rep. Stephen Owens (R-Hesston) assured Carmichael that after reading the bill further he would see that it was not an excuse to go easy on drunk drivers. Carmichael rebutted, saying “If you’re drunk you should go to jail, if you flee or loot you should go to jail. There should not be an ‘And’ clause.”
Proponents of the bill wanted to make sure that legislators understand the bill’s purpose is to ensure that law enforcement officers are not the ones charging the accused, but rather letting that power resides in prosecutor’s hands. Right now, the law is written to look like the opposite, so this bill would ensure that officers would have less power to try to incarcerate someone. There was more debate over whether the bill should be changed from ‘And’ to an ‘Or ‘clause and thus the vote was delayed in committee.
Rep. Emil Bergquist (R-Park City) reminded the committee that the current law is discretionary to officers on whether or not they brought someone in for a misdemeanor, but not for a felony. He also said that “even if an officer lets someone driving under the influence go, often they will have them find another ride home and will not send them off with their keys back to their vehicle.” Bergquist suggested there was too much concern that the bill would be soft on alcohol and driving, when current legislation says that is up to the officer to decide what they want to do with misdemeanor offenses, and that is not the bill they are discussing.
After much back and forth the vote was 8 v. 6, with the motion passing. Many legislators seemed upset with how the bill was written and continued to have conversations after the issue was voted upon. The Committee Report, after the bill was amended by the Committee on Judiciary, suggests the bill be passed on. There has been no movement with the bill since.
Samantha Gilstrap is a University of Kansas senior from Charlotte, N.C., majoring in journalism.