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Kansas Senate committee passes corrections budget; funds for boys ranch not included

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, at 7:59 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at 7:14 a.m.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday passed the governor’s proposed corrections budget, allocating more than $360 million for 2015, but the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch was not on the list.

Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, a member of Ways and Means, said he was disappointed the budget did not include a provision that would provide long-term funding for the boys ranch at Lake Afton in Sedgwick County.

Kerschen said he’s optimistic that the overall bill will find support in the full Senate. He particularly emphasized the importance of portions of the budget that focus on inmates’ mental health and reducing recidivism.

Kerschen blamed the Judge Riddel setback on a combination of bad weather closing the Senate for two days and a decision by Sedgwick County to approve bonuses for ranch employees.

“That just complicates the picture. We’ve lost some credibility,” Kerschen said.

County officials have repeatedly said the bonuses were necessary to keep employees on in the face of an uncertain future.

Kerschen’s provision would have mandated a new cost evaluation for juvenile facilities and helped introduce performance incentives. Kerschen and the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, both promised to work toward a long-term solution for the boys ranch apart from the main corrections budget.

Before passing the budget, the committee removed a 1.5 percent pay increase for classified corrections employees because Masterson said he would pursue that raise for all classified statewide employees. If that measure fails to pass, Masterson wanted to make sure that corrections wouldn’t be stuck footing the bill for a pay increase.

Masterson has repeatedly expressed his desire to get the corrections budget settled early in the session. Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the corrections budget last year after the Legislature made cuts.

“This basically from my perspective kind of sets the floor,” Masterson said. “I wanted to make sure we had that corrections piece, because that’s by far the core function of government. So I just wanted to have that hole sealed and then we can get to business.”

Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, praised legislators for moving quickly on the budget.

“I think what this represents is the Legislature understands that the budget for public safety for all Kansans has a lynchpin with the Kansas Department of Corrections,” Barclay said.

“The budget cuts that were proposed last year and vetoed from the governor really needed to be remedied this year so that we can ensure some stability.”

The budget passed through the House Appropriations Committee last week. That committee also removed the pay increase from its version of the budget.

Committee member Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, said legislators in both chambers are eager to get the budget passed.

“I think everybody’s ready. Let’s get this one done. This is the only thing that we actually have to get done,” Hoffman said.

But the House committee made a few more changes than the Senate.

Barclay said the House bill decreases the funding for educational programs at juvenile corrections facilities by 20 percent. The governor originally proposed $3.1 million, but the House bill cuts $624,000.

Hoffman said the committee would like to see if the department can find more savings on education.

But Barclay said education is one of the best tools to prevent future crimes by juvenile offenders. He said enhancing the educational opportunities of youth in the corrections system should be a priority.

The House bill also reduces the number of additional guards at the Topeka Correctional Facility to 14 from the 24 the governor has proposed. A federal inspection of the facility last year found that it has insufficient staffing. House members are seeking to increase the staffing more gradually than the governor proposed, Hoffman said.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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