A questionable police raid on a Leawood family’s home has led Kansas lawmakers to endorse better public access to police records.
The Legislature on Friday passed a bill making public key documents — known as probable cause affidavits — that are used to justify arrests or searches.
“They put the people ahead of the government. It’s a victory for the people,” said Robert Harte, who with his wife, Adlynn, fought to learn why deputies raided their home two years ago in search of marijuana.
Final passage came as lawmakers strove late Friday to bring the 2014 legislative session to a close.
Legislators approved the open records measure without controversial provisions to speed up and limit death penalty appeals. The bill now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback to sign.
The affidavits are sworn documents that include evidence and establish the probable cause to legally justify a search, an arrest or criminal charges.
Kansas is generally believed to be the only state in the country that keeps these types of documents from public view. Most states sometimes restrict access, but only until the arrest warrant is carried out.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican, was inspired by the failed drug search at the Hartes’ home. The raid led the couple on a yearlong crusade for documents to shed light on what led to the search, which produced no charges or evidence.
The search occurred after the family purchased indoor gardening equipment from a hydroponics store.
The Hartes, who spent $25,000 to get to the records, were grateful for the bill’s passage.
“We feel like some good has come out of what happened to us,” Adlynn Harte said. “We at least can be happy that this won’t happen to other people in the future.”
Today, probable cause affidavits start out closed. Only a court order makes them open to the public. Now the documents can be made public after a request is filed with the court clerk.
Law enforcement has five business days to respond. Prosecutors could still ask a judge to seal the documents or delete sensitive information under more than half a dozen conditions set out in the bill.
Other action Friday:
Lawmakers approved a $14.6 billion spending plan that increases outlays for services for the disabled and gives a $250 bonus to state employees.
Lawmakers sent Brownback a bill declaring that the federal government has no authority to regulate prairie chickens in Kansas. It allows the attorney general to file lawsuits to block federal attempts to regulate the birds and their habitats.
The bill is a response to the recent federal listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, which opponents say could needlessly restrict agriculture and energy companies. It also covers the greater prairie chicken.
On a 63-60 vote, the House blocked debate on a bill to repeal a mandate for utilities to have wind and other renewable resources cover 20 percent of their peak generating capacities by 2020.
Supporters said the issue is dead for the year but promised to push it again next year. Environmentalists fought the proposal.