- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - An amended bill passed by the Kansas Senate has the potential to reverse an open records law passed just two years ago, according to the Kansas Press Association and other critics.

In 2014, lawmakers approved a bill that made probable cause affidavits open to the public. Before that, Kansas was the only state in the U.S. that sealed the affidavits, which explain why police arrested someone or searched a house or business.

Critics contend the amended bill passed by the Senate Wednesday could seal those records again, while supporters say it clarifies “vague” language in the original bill, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/1RnksIF ).

“It guts the bill that we worked so hard to pass two years ago,” said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association. “It hands judges a laundry list of ways to seal these documents.”

But Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, said the amendment gives judges more specific guidance for determining when to redact or seal the affidavits.

“The current language in there (the original bill) is rather vague … The amendment is very, very specific,” he said.

The 2014 law required anyone seeking a probable cause affidavit to make a request to the court. A judge determines if the affidavit contained information that should be redacted, such as the name of a rape victim, or if the affidavit should be sealed. The law also allowed prosecutors and defense attorneys to object to the release of the affidavit.

Since then, some judges have required a hearing every time someone asked for an affidavit, even if it had already been released to someone else.

Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, sponsored the original bill and filed a bill this session to fix that problem. That bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate, where the amendment, sponsored by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, was added this week and approved on Wednesday.

The amendment says if probable cause affidavit contains information that constitutes “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” the judge may redact or seal the affidavit - something judges already can do.

Anstaett said the amendment was overly broad.

“It gives judges a blank check to seal everything. What they have done is cut our legs right out from under us,” he said.

The bill goes now to conference committee, where several House and Senate legislators could remove the amendment or possibly kill the bill.

“Approval of this language will return Kansas to the position of ‘outlier’ on the issue of affidavits in support of arrest and search warrants,” Anstaett said. “”In fact, if this passes as amended, Kansas may as well no longer have an affidavit access statute,” he said.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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