- Associated Press - Saturday, February 24, 2018

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Sentencing Commission is discussing deleting hundreds of names on a public criminal registry that allows Kansans to know if people who committed a wide range of crimes live or work near them.

The commission said Kansas has expanded uses for the registry so much that it now is nearly unusable, while complicating efforts to rehabilitate thousands of people, including those who are on the list for relatively minor drug offenses.

The registry includes names, addresses and crimes of nearly 20,000 Kansans, whose information stays on the Kansas Bureau of Investigation site for 15 years or longer, beginning when the offender completes any prison time, the Kansas News Service reported .

The commission wants to delete more than 4,500 people convicted of drug offenses from the registry. Advocates for the change say some drug users look at the database to get names and addresses of people who might sell them drugs.

“The state,” agency director Scott Schultz told lawmakers this month, “has unintentionally become an online shopping portal for methamphetamine and other drugs.”

Law enforcement agencies oppose changing the system, arguing that it gives law-abiding Kansans important information.

“They use it to see who in the neighborhood is creating a hazard for their child,” said Ed Klumpp, a former Topeka police chief who lobbies for sheriffs’ offices and police departments.

The Kansas House and Senate are holding hearings on several bills this session designed to reduce the database, which began about a quarter century ago largely to denote where sex offenders are located. Legal experts say Kansas is one of only a few states that have expanded online criminal registries to cover many more crimes beyond sex offenses.

Kansas adds more than 1,000 names to the registry per year, with most people who break laws that address small amounts of drugs or threats of violence that don’t lead to physical harm. Possession without intent to deliver and marijuana crimes are excluded. But someone who was given probation for misdemeanors can be listed with people who committed murders.

“People can’t tell actually at this point who they should be worried about and who they shouldn’t,” said Jennifer Roth, an appellate lawyer who testified recently on behalf of the state association of public defenders.

People on the registry can be sent back to prison for violating a complicated system of regulations. Last year, Kansas courts found 326 people guilty of failing to register and more than 100 went back to prison.

Removing drug offenders from the KBI database would save $1 million a year in prison spending by freeing an estimated 40 beds a year. That doesn’t include savings from not needing prosecutors, public defenders and judges for the cases.

The law requires registrants to visit their local sheriff’s office every three months to pay $20 and verify or update their information. They must visit every county where they live, work and study and pay the fee at each location. If information, such as changing jobs, getting a tattoo or buying a car, requires extra visits and must be reported within three days.

Missing a quarterly visit or other check-in is a felony, with fresh felonies incurred for each month that goes by. Falling $40 behind on fees for more than two weeks is a felony, too.

Schultz, of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said studies haven’t found that high-frequency reporting to authorities increases public safety.

Those criticisms don’t sway law enforcement.

Greg Smith, a special deputy for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, told two House and Senate panels this month criminals can blame only themselves.

“Choices have consequences,” said Smith, a former state senator. “If you don’t want to register, don’t do the crime.”

The KBI didn’t testify on the bills but said it supports the registry in its current form.

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