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Kansas Bill Now Offers Wrongly Imprisoned Benefits, But Less Money

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Kansas News Service
People exonerated after spending time in a Kansas prison would be guaranteed compensation under a bill passed out of a legislative committee on Monday

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee say Kansans wrongly convicted of crimes deserve to be compensated by the state. The panel amended and advanced a bill Monday that would do that using more than just cash.

Right now, Kansas pays nothing automatically to people imprisoned on botched convictions. People in that situation can use lawsuits to seek payments, but the bill in the legislature would create a system for compensation without a legal fight.

Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner suggested trimming the proposed payments in the plan from $80,000 for each year spent in jail to $50,000, because that’s what the federal government pays.

“You cannot give these folks their years back,” Baumgardner said. “I thought that was a good start.”

Lawmakers last week heard about the challenges people face after being wrongly convicted of crimes. They had lost time with their families and everything they owned. After being released from prison, they were left broke with no credit or work history.

“It’s an uphill battle,” said Floyd Bledsoe, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. “It’s a day-to-day battle.”

To take a more holistic approach to helping people like Bledsoe, Baumgardner pushed for boosting services available to them. Her amendments added other support such as health care coverage and college tuition.

“We are going to be there for you, including education and health care,” Baumgardner said. “That’s better than just saying ‘here’s some financial compensation.’”

Democratic Sen. David Haley said money should be provided as soon as possible to people who were wrongly imprisoned, not in a series of yearly payments. The plan would start with a $100,000 payment and the rest would be paid out annually. A court could choose to offer a single lump sum payment if that’s deemed appropriate.

Haley also has concerns about reducing the amount people receive for each year they were wrongly imprisoned.

“Those years are stolen,” Haley said. “It’s undercompensated at $50,000.”

However, Haley called his concerns “nitpicking” compared to the steps the bill takes toward helping people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

“I’m so happy after a decade we are really, finally doing something,” Haley said. “It’s a great start.”

The proposal could come up for consideration in the Senate this week as lawmakers debate dozens of bills to beat a legislative deadline.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

As the Kansas News Service news editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
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