Senate committee trims monetary compensation for wrongfully convicted

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Legislation that would compensate anyone wrongfully convicted and sent to prison moved to the full Senate on Monday morning after some tweaks.

The Senate Judiciary Committee signed off on the bill, but only after lowering the monetary compensation to $50,000 for each year someone is wrongfully imprisoned. The first version of the bill would have awarded someone $80,000 for each year they were imprisoned.

The new amount is commensurate with what’s awarded at the federal level, said state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and a sponsor of the bill.  The $80,000 figure was based on the compensation Texas pays to someone who is wrongly convicted, she said.

Currently, Kansas provides no compensation for someone wrongly convicted, people like Lamonte McIntyre, who spent 23 years in prison for a double murder he didn’t commit.

The Judiciary Committee also added a provision that would waive tuition and fees for up to 130 credit hours at state post-secondary schools for those wrongfully convicted.

Anyone wrongfully convicted also would be allowed to enroll in Kansas’ health care benefits program at state expense.

The bill additionally requires the state to immediately provide re-entry services, such as housing vouchers, counseling and career guidance, when someone who was wrongfully convicted is released.

The legislation, Baumgardner said, offers a complete package of services to people trying to rebuild their lives. “That’s better than saying, ‘Here’s some financial compensation,’ ” she said. “It expresses the things we in Kansas value.”

Baumgardner is optimistic that the bill will pass, especially since the House is working on similar legislation.

“Last year, I don’t think folks ever thought we would be this far along and that we would get something of substance out of committee,” she said.