HB 2555 leads to spat among Republicans

Posted March 14, 2014

A prominent House member was unable to testify on his own bill Thursday, leading to a heated encounter between him and the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, a fellow Republican.

Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, missed most of the testimony on his bill to open probable cause court records because he was in the House chamber voting on other measures.

He returned at the end of the hearing with the intent to testify. But Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, adjourned the meeting and announced the committee will vote on House Bill 2555 next week.

"Interesting that that happened at a hearing on transparency and accountability," Rubin said a half hour after the meeting adjourned.

Rubin, chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, had calmed down some by that point.

At the time the meeting adjourned he was furious, slamming down his testimony on one of the Old Supreme Courtroom benches and rushing to confront King in the corner of the room.

King said later that afternoon he would extend the hearing on the bill an extra day.

"He is the first person testifying tomorrow," King said of Rubin.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said he would have been happy to postpone lunch Thursday to allow Rubin to testify.

"Personally I think it's important to hear from any representative or senator that's carrying legislation," Haley said. "That's what I'm here for. Lunch is a secondary consideration."

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she also would like to hear more from Robert and Adlynn Harte, the constituents on behalf of whom Rubin brought the bill.

The legislation passed the House 113-10 after the Hartes testified twice about their experience spending more than a year and $25,000 in legal fees trying to find out why law enforcement officers searched their home for hours in a fruitless early-morning drug raid. The ultimate answer — wet tea leaves in their curbside trash.

Each of the Hartes had their testimony limited to three minutes Thursday, as King applied strict time limits to conferees.

McGinn questioned whether that was necessary in their case.

"It seems like a lot of times when we have victims before us we're a lot more lenient with their time because they're here to tell their personal story," McGinn said.

King said any additional input the Hartes could provide between now and when the committee votes on the bill next week "would be welcome."

Rubin said that isn’t likely.

"It's bad enough what they had to go through with their ordeal," Rubin said. "But now we've hauled them up here three times."

King said he would make efforts to accommodate the Hartes because he doesn’t want them to be "shut out of the opportunity to speak.”

“I am going to call them right now and invite them back tomorrow, to appear by phone if they want to, to testify or answer questions for as long as they want,” King said.

Rubin's bill would unseal the court records police use to justify searches and arrests after they are executed. He said it would bring Kansas in line with every other state, which presumes such records are open and allows them to be sealed or redacted at the discretion of a judge.

Several prosecutors have expressed concerns about unsealing the information. Jessica Glendening, a representative for the state's defense attorneys, said this was one of the rare issues on which her colleagues agreed.

“Our biggest concern is with a defendant's right to a fair trial and the risk that the publicity of information in such affidavits can damage that right,” Glendening said.

Stephen Howe, Johnson County district attorney, called the Hartes' situation "unfortunate" but said the state's prosecutors can’t support the bill and will propose to amend it.

Howe also disputed the assertion that Kansas is "an outlier" when it comes to the secrecy of the documents in question, saying "the states are all over the place" and comparisons to neighbors are misleading.

"The things is, Missouri is one of the most open states in the union and Kansas is more restrictive," Howe said.

Rubin said the state's Legislative Research Department determined, after a year of study, that Kansas was the "most restrictive" of the 40 states studied.

"I didn't dream that up out of thin air," Rubin said.

He said being allowed to testify Friday will give him the opportunity to cite those sources as he makes one last case to pass the bill as is. But he still isn’t happy with how King handled Thursday's hearing.

"I didn't appreciate it," Rubin said. "He knows I didn't appreciate it."