Governor signs probable cause affidavits bill

Posted May 14, 2014

After years of struggle and stonewalling by prosecutors and law enforcement, the days of Kansas as an “outlier” on police records is about to become a thing of the past.

Gov. Sam Brownback Wednesday signed the legislation that provides for the opening of probable cause affidavits used to secure arrest and search warrants.

The Kansas Legislature, with just one vote against the measure in the House and Senate, said the time had come to shine light on the documents used to show cause when law enforcement officers want to arrest someone or search their person or premises.

“Rep. John Rubin wrote the bill, fought for it tooth and nail and ultimately helped lead the charge to change the face of the justice system of Kansas,” said Richard Gannon, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas Press Association. “He revealed Kansas as an outlier on this issue.”

Rubin, a Shawnee Republican, utilized just about every parliamentary procedure available to keep the probable cause affidavit issue alive.

“We thought this legislation was dead at least three times,” Gannon said. “But each time, Rep. Rubin found another way to resurrect the language. In the end, he even delivered more than he had originally sought. He got search warrant affidavits open as well.”

The long and winding road to the bill’s passage didn’t end until the last day of the session. The journey included a concentrated lobbying effort by Gannon and Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, a three-part series called “Dark Kansas” by KSHB-TV in Kansas City that was produced by former Kansas City Star reporter Karen Dillon, a cartoon and editorial from Dane Hicks of the Anderson County Review and a number of strong editorials from newspaper editors across Kansas.

KPA Legislative Committee chair Olaf Frandsen, editor and publisher of the Salina Journal, testified a number of times in Topeka, contrasting Kansas law with the open records of Texas, where he was a publisher before coming to Kansas two years ago.

KPA media law consultant Mike Kautsch provided comprehensive testimony about why the records should be open and obliterated the argument from prosecutors that opening these records would put them in jeopardy of breaking Supreme Court rules regarding extrajudicial statements.

In the end, the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, led by Riley County District Attorney Barry Wilkerson and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, stepped forward to help broker the final deal.

The House voted 123-1 and the Senate 40-0 on the final conference committee report.

“While the language wasn’t perfect from our point of view,” said Doug Anstaett, KPA executive director, “it moved the needle so far in our direction that our state can boast of an end to its notorious reputation of sealed affidavits.

“And when you throw in the fact that search warrant affidavits also are now open, this is a huge victory for the people of Kansas. The public must be able to scrutinize our law  enforcement officers and prosecutors. This bill really makes that much more possible now.”

The new law goes into effect July 1 and is not retroactive.