A Kansas Senate panel backed a bill Wednesday that would make changes to a state law imposing an automatic 50-year sentence on some convicted murderers.
The Senate Judiciary Committee's unanimous support sent the measure to the full Senate where a vote was expected later in the day.
The legislation is the only bill being considered in the special session called by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a similar law in Virginia.
The House passed the measure 122-0 on Tuesday. Senate approval would send the bill to Brownback for his signature. The measure would become law upon publication in the Kansas Register.
Kansas adopted the so-called "Hard 50" prison sentence in 1990, when the Legislature rejected the death penalty but wanted to ensure long sentences in certain murder cases.
The new law would apply to about 45 cases that are being tried or on appeal. It would require jurors to weigh a limited list of aggravating circumstances during their deliberations to determine whether to recommend the 50-year sentence. The aggravating circumstances include: murder for hire; murder to avoid arrest or prosecution; a clear intention by the defendant for the murder to be heinous, atrocious or cruel; or a prior felony conviction in which the defendant inflicted great bodily harm or death of another person.
There would be no restrictive list of mitigating factors for jurors to consider or for defense attorneys to offer during trial.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who asked Brownback to call the special session to fix the law, said Wednesday that the changes would not apply to the 106 defendants who have been sentenced to a Hard 40 or 50 since 1990.
Schmidt, the former Senate majority leader, said defendants in those cases had already exhausted their appeals and could only be considered for a proposed new sentence if a court vacated their prison sentences on other grounds.
However, defense attorney Randall Hodgkinson raised questions about the proposed legislation as it pertained to evidence of prior convictions of a defendant that could influence a jury's decision to impose the mandatory 50-year sentence.