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Recent Kansas editorials

December 23, 2019 GMT

The Kansas City Star, Dec. 23

What would you do when presented with a 3-month-old baby who suffered a ghastly 31 fractures at the hands of a “caretaker”? Would you say, “Whatever we do, let’s not charge him with child abuse”?

That actually happened in Leavenworth, thanks to Kansas’ outrageously outdated child abuse law, which is far too narrow in scope and stunningly feeble in its range of punishments.

“It absolutely shocks the senses,” Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson said of the baby’s suffering. “This child had no way to protect itself.”

Nor did the Kansas child abuse law do much to help.

Whereas the law might have prescribed as little as two-and-a-half years’ prison in the case — and possibly probation — Thompson wisely chose instead to charge Robert Green with aggravated battery, as if the victim were an adult. With that law, Thompson was able to secure a sentence of seven years.

Even that’s not enough, but it is surely many shades better than the child abuse statute would’ve provided.

The state’s archaic child abuse law also contemplates an old-fashioned, strangely confining range of possible types of abuse, specifically mentioning torture, cruel beating, shaking, and cruel and inhumane corporal punishment.

Thompson, try as he might, didn’t see this case fitting any of those categories. The baby was found to have fractures — some fresh, others in the healing process — to the skull, ribs on both sides, both femurs and to the right tibia and fibula, as well as abdominal trauma. Other than the perpetrator’s eventual admission to having pushed the baby off a couch on one occasion, doctors could only surmise what other torment the infant might have endured, which seems to have included punitive squeezing.

Torture? To the layman, absolutely. But in the exacting world of U.S. criminal law, a more precise term would be aggravated battery.

Thompson, who happens to be president of the Kansas County & District Attorneys Association, plans in the legislative session beginning in January to renew a failed effort from last year to shore up the state’s child abuse law. He wants to see aggravated battery against a child as a specific and more severely punished crime.

Last year’s effort came too late in the legislative session to build momentum — and since Green wasn’t sentenced until Dec. 6, Thompson was ethically prohibited from using the still-open case as a reason for changing the law earlier this year.

Not so, this next year.

Stat Rep. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat from Leavenworth, calls the baby’s case heart-wrenching, and says he’s “all in” on changing the law. He’s already working with the Revisor of Statutes’ office on potential language for an “aggravated child abuse” provision to broaden the law’s scope and strengthen its penalties.

State Rep. Susan Humphries, the Republican from Wichita who introduced the child abuse bill last session, says the ramped-up legislation that would create the offense of aggravated child abuse just needs to be tweaked to make sure law enforcement authorities are comfortable with it. She notes that with prosecutors avoiding using the current child abuse law, and instead filing generic aggravated battery charges, that only serves to statistically obscure the extent of child abuse in the state.

“We need to accurately reflect what’s going on,” Humphries told The Star.

Some lawmakers have been fearful of such an enhanced law being misused, Pittman added, so the language must be carefully crafted.

Granted. Still, shouldn’t the greater fear be a child abuse law that’s so flimsy it isn’t used at all?

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec. 20

Has anyone in this country not decided how he or she feels about the impeachment of President Donald Trump?

We assume there must be a few such people. Perhaps they live in caves or are fortunate enough not to have access to televisions. For many of the rest of us, though, this entire impeachment process has unfolded with a grating, grinding familiarity. Even the vote of the House of Representatives to formally adopt articles of impeachment passed with little drama.

Battle lines have been drawn. Democrats know their side. Republicans know their side. Precious few venture from one to the other — or even acknowledge the other side’s right to exist.

But somehow, someway, the 100 members of the U.S. Senate have a responsibility to put the preceding paragraphs and the truths they depict entirely out of their minds in the weeks to come. They will be jurors in the impeachment trial of the president.

The Constitution even requires them to take a separate oath to do so: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation.”

Some in that body have suggested they won’t be impartial jurors or will work directly with the president’s team to dismiss the charges from the House. We trust that these senators are merely posturing politically. Surely they understand the gravity of the situation.

Surely.

Look, we understand that these requests are difficult in these hyper-polarized times. We know that senators may not be inclined to take them. But we also now that the Constitution of this country matters. The conduct of the president of the United States matters. So does the conduct of the House and Senate.

And while there are questions to ask about the process, there will always be those who avoid the subject by focusing on distractions. Think about a little boy who was accused of taking a cookie and responds by blaming his sister for spilling a glass of milk last week. His accusation may be correct, but did he take the cookie? What parent would allow him to go unpunished?

The president is accused of pressuring a foreign country to investigate a potential political rival and using foreign aid as leverage. How would Republicans react if similar accusation were brought up against a theoretical President Hillary Clinton? One can imagine.

On the other hand, Democrats must also reflect on what they would do or say about the process if impeachment charges were leveled against that theoretical President Clinton. Surely they would have process questions as well.

The times and the duties of senators are serious. Together, they should commit to an impartial, fair and just process.