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Bill to punish Kansas lawmakers on drugs dies in Legislature

By   /   March 4, 2014  /   No Comments

SCOT FREE: The Kansas Legislature still has yet to implement penalties for state lawmakers who fail a drug test.

SCOT FREE: The Kansas Legislature still has yet to implement penalties for state lawmakers who fail a drug test.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — Legislation that would have enacted actual punishments for drugged-up state lawmakers is officially dead.

For the moment, elected officials in the Kansas Legislature can test positive for an illegal substance without fear of repercussion or public exposure.

SB 391, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, would have closed a monumental oversight pointed out last December by Legislative Administrative Services Director Jeff Russell. While new rules allow for welfare benefits to be revoked if a recipient tests positive for narcotics, no punitive actions were enshrined in law for an elected official who fails a drug test.

“If we’re going to pass a bill of that nature, then the Legislature should be included,” Hensley said. “We should practice what we preach. If we’re going to apply that kind of law to other citizens of Kansas, then we should apply it to ourselves.”

Hensley’s proposed legislation would have revoked lawmakers’ legislative pay for varying periods contingent upon completion of a substance abuse treatment program.

But with last Friday’s turnaround deadline having come and gone, bills that are still languishing in their house of origin — and haven’t received special “blessing” from leadership — are no longer up for consideration.

So why wasn’t this bill considered earlier?

State Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence

State Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence

Nobody asked — not even Hensley, said Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

“No one ever asked me to bless 391. Nobody ever asked me to work 391,” King told Kansas Watchdog. “Until you reminded me who sponsored it, I didn’t remember it was Hensley’s bill.”

While Hensley said he feels very strongly about the issue, he said he let time slip away before he could address it. Hensley submitted the legislation on Feb. 13, barely two weeks before the deadline.

“I just got so tied up with other issues that I never had an opportunity to (request a hearing), but I would question whether there was any interest in the legislation to begin with,” Hensley said.

King said it’s common for individuals sponsoring a piece of legislation to bend his ear in an attempt to land a committee hearing. In the absence of such vocal support, King suggested the bill was more about political posturing than actually solving the problem.

Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka

State Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka

“There are times bills are introduced just to make a statement, and nobody wants a hearing on them,” he said.

Though King voted against a similarly worded amendment submitted by Hensley last year, he said it was because the proposition didn’t include language allowing for “reasonable suspicion” prior to administering a drug test.

A subsequent amendment submitted by Hensley and approved by the Senate, including King, included the provision but lacked any penalties for state lawmakers. Hensley said the exclusion was a result of an error by the Kansas Office of the Revisor of Statutes.

Revisor Gordon Self didn’t return a request for comment from Kansas Watchdog on Tuesday morning.

Rather than stripping elected officials of pay, King said he would instead support public disclosure of legislative drug test results.

“I think the most punitive action on an elected official regarding a positive drug test is disclosure,” King said. “Disclosing a positive drug test by an elected official is effectively job termination.”

Related: As deadline looms, doped-up KS lawmakers could escape punishment
Related: Dopey law: KS lawmakers who use drugs could get special treatment

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

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Travis Perry is an investigative reporter covering news and politics for Watchdog.org's Kansas bureau. Before joining the organization, Travis graduated cum laude from Washburn University and cut his teeth as news editor for the Osawatomie Graphic, where he received numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association.

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