TOPEKA -- A recent bill introduced to the Kansas House of Representatives changes the criminal penalties for abusing a child.

House Bill 2394 decreases the level of severity for child abuse while adding the separate crime of aggravated abuse of a child.

“This legislation is extremely important to proportionately respond to extreme and serious abuse of a child,” said Kim Parker, prosecutor coordinator for the Kansas County and District Attorney’s Association.

The current Kansas statutes regarding child abuse group all acts of child abuse together as severity level 5 regardless of the amount of harm done to the child. For example, rape is a severity level 1 felony while a first-time misdemeanor is a severity level 10.

“Many of the acts of abuse perpetrated on children are overlooked by [the current] statute,” Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson said in his testimony to the committee. “Furthermore, many acts of abuse against children vary in the nature of their severity, a consideration also not taken into account by our current statutory language.”

The bill would decrease the level of severity from 5 to 7, or 9, depending on the nature of the abuse. The change in severity would alter sentencing regulations to “proportionately respond to extreme and serious abuse of a child,” according to Parker.

The Office of Judicial Administration notes the bill could increase the number of cases filed in district court, which would result in more time spent by court employees and judges processing and deciding these cases. A financial effect cannot be estimated until the judicial branch has operated under the bill’s provisions.

The KCDAA and the Leavenworth County attorney supported the bill while the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriffs Association and Kansas Peace Officers Association testified as neutral.

The neutral groups recognized the positive intentions of the bill but noted that the vagueness within the bill “may unintentionally include law enforcement use of force or restraints.”

Grant Heiman is a University of Kansas junior from Wichita majoring in journalism.

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