Under current Kansas state law, a person charged with patronizing a prostitute is charged a minimum fine of $2,500. Leawood City Council members on Monday were surprised to learn the maximum fine for the same charge is also $2,500.
That will change. The council unanimously approved a lower minimum fine of $1,200 for the charge, as outlined in the 2017 Uniform Public Offense Code. In addition, now, instead of the entire fine being remitted to the state, one-half of the fine will go to the state human trafficking victim assistance fund.
“Previously the minimum and the maximum were $2,500, so it was hard to get people to plead guilty when they had to pay the maximum fine anyway,” said Marcy Knight, assistant city attorney.
The Kansas League of Municipalities, a membership association that advocates on behalf of Kansas communities, annually publishes the Uniform Public Offense Code, which acts as a comprehensive list of the changes made to criminal laws in Kansas during the previous legislative session.
Leawood usually adopts the Standard Traffic Ordinance along with incorporating the Uniform Public Offense Code into Leawood City Code. This year, however, the city didn’t need to as the only meaningful change to the traffic code is a fine increase for seatbelt violations from $10 to $30, which the city already adopted in June. The additional $20 supports Kansas’ SAFE program.
Councilwoman Lisa Harrison questioned the legislature’s motives for lowering the minimum fine for patronizing prostitutes.
“I was surprised with the attention and concerns about rape culture in our society,” she said.
Knight said Kansas lawmakers intended the fine to be tough on crime when they changed it years ago, but it turned out to be unrealistic.
“Offenders wouldn’t pay it. They wanted a trial if they were going to have to pay the max fine anyway,” Knight said.
This led to many prosecutors relying on plea bargaining and, in some cases, Knight said, some jurisdictions changed the charges altogether to keep the fine revenue.
“Unlawful use of communication facility” is among new crimes Leawood incorporated. It is now a Class A misdemeanor to use a communication device like a phone or computer to engage in buying sexual relations. The law is meant to help combat human trafficking, which Police Chief Troy Rettig said remains a concern in the I-35 highway corridor and near hotel districts in parts of Kansas.
“We want to make the city code mirror the state law as much as possible,” Knight said, citing updates to Leawood’s animal abuse ordinances. “For example, we call ours ‘animal abuse,’ but the state calls it ‘cruelty to animals’ so we want our law to mirror theirs.”
The Kansas Legislature made several changes to laws pertaining to cruelty to animals.
New legislation now allows those with repeated city convictions to be charged with a felony. The section housing these ordinances also includes a new subsection requiring responsible animal care. This allows animal control officers greater discretion when investigating allegations of mistreatment to animals. This allows officers to distinguish between irresponsible pet care and true cruelty to animals, Knight said.
Laws regarding property in police custody and the disposal of seized property through auction methods also received an overhaul. Knight said most of the changes update the language to conform to the Kansas law regarding disposal of firearms. Contraband such as narcotics and explosives can be retained by the police department for investigative or training purposes instead of destroyed.