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Bill to open Kansas police records advances

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Associated Press,Watchdog Blog,Kansas,Transparency

TOPEKA, Kan. -- A proposal for making Kansas police records more available to the public has cleared a committee, a victory for open-records advocates who have been working to overcome opposition from prosecutors.

The House Judiciary Committee on Monday approved a bill to make police documents explaining the reasons behind arrests open to the public and to make affidavits justifying search warrants open to the parties involved. The committee's action sends the bill to the entire House for debate.

Those whose homes are searched would have 30 days to request documentation explaining the reason for the search, the Wichita Eagle reported.

Kansas is one of the few states to seal probable-cause affidavits. Neighboring Missouri does not.

"There's no reason for our process to be quite as restrictive as it is," said committee chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican.

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican and the bill's sponsor, said the measure would create greater transparency and allow the public to hold law enforcement officials more accountable.

"Kansas really is an outlier in this area," Rubin said. He contrasted the state with Missouri by distributing an arrest warrant affidavit for a murder case, made public one day after the arrest.

Prosecutors have raised concerns that opening the records could jeopardize the safety and privacy of victims and witnesses. The committee amended the bill to allow prosecutors to seek to have the records sealed or redacted in such instances.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett still expressed concern. In an email, he noted that Sedgwick County filed 5,000 affidavits last year and said that if all of them are public by default, it would cost time and money to handle requests for the documents.

But Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, called the committee's approval "a major step" toward openness.

"Kansas has been lagging behind," Anstaett said. "We need to catch back up to where everybody else is."

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