Kansas' capital city repeals law against domestic violence
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Leaders in Kansas' capital city repealed a local law against domestic violence late Tuesday as part of a controversial plan that supporters blamed on budget concerns but victims' advocates chastised as austerity run amok.
Topeka's city council and mayor voted 7-3 to approve the repeal, saying such cases are better handled by county or state courts. They also said retaining the ordinance would muddy the debate over the county prosecutor's recent decision to stop prosecuting domestic battery cases.
Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor stopped pursuing domestic battery cases and other misdemeanors in September, citing deep cuts to his office's budget. Topeka, the largest city in the county, responded by proposing to repeal its domestic violence ordinance, saying it didn't want to be stuck with the bill for picking up those cases.
Advocates for abuse victims were outraged by both plans, saying they went too far.
"I just asked everybody to consider the message we're sending," said City Councilwoman Denise Everhart, who voted against the repeal.
But interim City Manager Dan Stanley said Tuesday's vote puts Topeka in a better position to negotiate.
with county officials.
"It removes the ambiguity," he said after the vote.
Taylor's spokesman, Dakota Loomis, called the city's decision drastic and unprecedented but said the prosecutor would reevaluate his position. The repeal doesn't end negotiations between city and county officials, "it just means there is a new dynamic in play," Loomis said.
Before Tuesday's vote, Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, likened the budget brinkmanship to "playing a game of chicken with people's lives."
"I can guarantee that people who are abusing are using this as a way to say, 'See, I told you that nobody cares'," she said.
Taylor said he knew his decision would upset people but contends his hand was forced by the 10 percent cut in his budget for 2012, which he said will force him to lay off staff. He said he considered employee furloughs and "every angle" before making his announcement in early September.
"We never wanted this to happen," he said. "I never thought we'd be at this point."
Topeka has had at least 35 reported incidents of domestic battery or assault since early September. Those cases are not being pursued, and as of last Friday, 18 people jailed have been released without facing charges, according to Topeka police. Prosecutors and police have refused to discuss details of the cases out of concern for victims' privacy, making it difficult to assess in what situations suspects aren't being prosecuted.
Taylor's decision has prompted furious reactions nationally, and county commissioners said they've received hundreds of emails in the past few days from people upset by Taylor's move and the city's response.
It doesn't help that the possible repeal of the ordinance comes during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
"It can't continue like this. They have to be prosecuted," said County Commissioner Ted Ensley, a Democrat. "Supposing they're changed and they're not prosecuted and it ends up they go back and cause a death of a woman or a child."