Overwhelming Support For New DL Law

New legislation signed into law by Governor Laura Kelly will provide  thousands of Kansans a path toward having their suspended licenses renewed. The new law has overwhelming support by Republican and Democrat lawmakers.

According to the Kansas Legal Services organization,  the new law creates a clear procedure for the more than 200,000 Kansans with suspended licenses to restore their driving privileges. The vast majority of these Kansans are not suspended for dangerous driving offenses but are instead suspended for failing to comply with the courts. The consequences of these suspensions are great: Parents are prevented from driving to work or taking their kids to school. Medical appointments are missed. People living in food deserts can’t make it to the grocery store.

Wichita Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau said the bill overhauling Kansas law on unpaid traffic fines signed by the governor would reduce suspension of driving privileges and allow people to drive to work on restricted licenses as they attempted to make necessary payments.

Senate Bill 500, signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly, had many moving parts and took years to refine, but was endorsed 120-0 by the House and 36-1 in the Senate.

“This bill will help those Kansans continue to take care of their responsibilities and contribute to their communities while they work their way through the legal system,” Faust-Goudeau said.

Sen. Rick Wilborn, a McPherson Republican, said he took pleasure in working to bring GOP majorities together with Democrats to “promote solutions for Kansans caught in a loop of mistakes and bad decisions.”

“I’m proud to give eligible drivers a new chance at responsible citizenship,” he said.

Kelly said when announcing signing of the legislation Friday that it was important to reduce red tape for Kansans overwhelmed by hefty fines that blocked reinstatement of a Kansas license.

Reform fine print

Under the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2025, state courts could restrict individuals’ licenses, rather than suspend them, while offenders kept their job, remained in school and attended church services as they continued to make payments on fees owed.

The statute would limit license reinstatement surcharges to a single fee of $100. Existing law imposed separate $100 reinstatement fees for each charge associated with failure to comply with a traffic citation.

The remodeled law would allow a person who committed the misdemeanor crime of failing to comply with a traffic citation to petition the court to reduce or waive payment of court costs. Current law mandated individuals who failed to comply had to pay fees in full within 30 days. If they didn’t, driving privileges were suspended. The new law would instead require an offender to pay the amount ordered by the court.

Courts would have to consider alternative solutions, including alcohol or drug treatment as well as community service, instead of restriction or suspension of driving privileges. The law would prohibit courts and the Kansas Department of Revenue from considering any conviction for a failure to comply older than five years when making determinations on suspension or restriction of driving privileges.

Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, said the legislation was a tribute to the late Wichita Rep. Gail Finney, who passed away in 2022. She was an advocate for reforming laws that had a disproportionate influence on people with modest incomes and people of color.

“Senate Bill 500, for me, is more than just a great bill for Kansans. It’s more than just the right thing to do. It also serves as a reminder of Gail Finney’s powerful legacy in which my footsteps are entrenched, and that good work continues in her absence,” Ford said.

Ag-gag, wildlife

Meanwhile, the governor also signed House Bill 2047 to reestablish prohibitions on flying drones or aircraft over livestock facilities, field crops and research stations to document allegations of animal mistreatment or environmental damage. The legislation responded to federal court decisions undermining the Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act. The so-called ag-gag statute in Kansas was the oldest law criminalizing undercover videotaping of abusive conduct on agriculture properties.

In 2018, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit challenging on First Amendment grounds Kansas’ quarter-century-old law thwarting covert investigations into the treatment of animals and workers at feedlots, slaughterhouses and in crop production zones. Three years ago, the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with ALDF’s legal claim and a lower federal court’s decision to strike down provisions of Kansas’ law.

“There are some places that people just shouldn’t go without permission,” said Republican Rep. Lisa Moser, a Wheaton rancher.

The Senate adopted 34-2 the bill designed to discourage environmental whistleblowers, while the House concurred 108-12.

Kelly also signed House Bill 2530, which was the controversial measure stripping the governor of authority to appoint the seven members of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission. Rural legislators unhappy with the commission’s discussion about ending the bait feeding of deer on private property joined with Topeka GOP Rep. Ken Corbet, who owns and operates the hunting business known as Ravenwood Lodge, to limit governors to four appointments.

The law requires the current commission to be dissolved June 30 and for a new commission to take over July 1. The governor would fill four seats, while the others would be the jurisdiction of the Kansas Senate president, Kansas House speaker and the Kansas attorney general.

The new commission would select a chairperson to serve two years in that role. Currently, the governor decides who served as chair and there was no term limit.

Sen. Virgil Peck, a Havana Republican, said the legislation was necessary because the state needed a “good, solid” commission that appreciated the provision in the Kansas Constitution that guaranteed the right to hunt, fish and trap game. He was among legislators concerned that too many park-oriented people were on the commission.

The wildlife commission bill was approved 78-45 in the House and by the minimum required, 21-18, in the Senate.

Other new laws

Under a separate bill signed by Kelly, parental consent would be required before a school could provide a minor with health care services.

For example, a school nurse couldn’t without a parent’s consent dispense or administer prescription or nonprescription drugs to a minor student. Nor could that school nurse conduct ongoing behavioral health treatment or administer a medical test with the minor’s blood or other fluid.

The big-stick portion of the bill — passed 111-0 in the House and 26-10 in the Senate — says violation of the law would lead to disciplinary action by the health care providers professional licensing agency.

Senate Bill 287‘s school nurse reform was bundled with a measure prohibiting medical facilities from isolating patients receiving end-of-life care from visits by relatives, as routinely occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also included a provision allowing first responders, scientists or technicians, including school nurses, to distribute emergency opioid antagonists such as Narcan. It also permitted EMS staff to distribute nonprescription, over-the-counter medications.

Kelly signed Senate Bill 420 to create opportunities for juvenile offenders to leave a correctional facility to take part in workforce and educational skills programs.

She signed into law House Bill 2531 to establish the Kansas Purple Alert Plan, which would be an alert system for missing people with an intellectual disability. It would operate in a manner consistent with programs such as the Amber alert for missing children and the Silver alert for elderly individuals.

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