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A police dog's death has Kansas poised to increase penalties for killing K-9 officers

In this photo provided by the Kansas House of Representatives, Oz, a Wichita, Kan., police dog, sits on a leash from his handler, Sedgwick County Sheriff's Deputy Tyler Brooks, during a Senate committee hearing on a bill to increase the state's penalties for killing a police dog or horse, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Brooks' former K-9 partner, Bane, was strangled to death by a domestic violence suspect, and Brooks had a hand in drafting the bill. (Carrie Rahfaldt/Kansas House of Representatives via AP)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is poised to increase penalties for killing police dogs and horses after legislators gave their final approval Tuesday to a measure inspired by a suspect's strangling of a dog last year in the state's largest city.

The Republican-controlled state House approved a bill with a 115-6 vote that would allow a first-time offender to be sentenced to more than three years in prison for killing a police animal, an arson dog, a game warden's dog or a search-and-rescue dog and up to five years if the killing occurs when a suspect is trying to elude law enforcement. An offender also could be fined up to $10,000.

The current penalty for killing a police dog is up to a year behind bars and a fine of between $500 and $5,000, and the law doesn't specifically cover horses.

“There is a lot of time and money put into those animals,” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican who was the bill’s leading advocate. “They have to continually train all the time and so to have one killed, there’s got to be a pretty harsh penalty.”

The GOP-controlled Senate approved the measure by a narrower 25-15 margin last week, and the bill goes next to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who has not said publicly whether she will sign it. Kelly typically signs measures with bipartisan support, but most of the 11 Democrats in the Senate opposed the bill.

Increased penalties have had bipartisan support across the U.S. In Colorado, the Democratically led General Assembly approved a measure last month. Proposals have advanced in GOP-controlled Legislatures in Missouri and West Virginia and introduced in at least four other states.

The Kansas measure was inspired by the November death of Bane, an 8-year-old Wichita police dog. Authorities say a suspect in a domestic violence case took refuge in a storm drain and strangled Bane when a deputy sent the dog in to flush out the suspect.

But critics of such measures have questions about how dogs are used in policing, particularly when suspects of color are involved. Their use also has a fraught history, such as their use during by Southern authorities during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Police dogs have jaws strong enough to puncture sheet metal. Victims of attacks by police dogs have sustained serious and even fatal injuries,” Keisha James, a staff attorney for the National Lawyers Guild's National Police Accountability Project, said in written testimony to a Senate committee last month. “It follows that an individual being attacked by a police dog would respond by trying to defend themselves.”

Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, turns to talk to colleagues following a House vote on legislation to increase the state's penalties for killing police dogs and horses, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Hawkins pushed for the bill and it has passed and gone to Gov. Laura Kelly. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
In this photo provided by the Kansas House of Representatives, Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, poses on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, with law enforcement officers from the Wichita area and Oz, a Wichita police dog, in the House chamber in Topeka, Kan. Oz's handler, Sedgwick County Sheriff's Deputy Tyler Brooks, appears left of the dog, while Hawkins appears to the dog's right. The photo behind the group is of Brooks' former K-9 partner, Bane, who was strangled to death by a domestic violence suspect. Brooks had a hand in drafting a bill to increase the penalties for killing police dogs. (Carrie Rahfaldt/Kansas House of Representatives via AP)
Kansas state Sens. Dennis Pyle, left, R-Hiawatha; Mark Steffen, center, R-Hutchinson, and Alicia Straub, right, R-Ellinwood, confer during a break in the Senate's session, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Lawmakers have approved a bill to increase the penalties for killing police dogs, and Steffen and Straub support it, while Pyle opposes it. (AP Photo/John Hanna)