TOPEKA — There was no reprieve for the Parole Board on Monday at a meeting of the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.
After a hearing, none of the committee members offered a resolution opposing Gov. Sam Brownback's order to disband the independent board and replace it with a new Prisoner Review Board, to be staffed by Department of Corrections employees.
Brownback directed the change last month in an executive reorganization order, or ERO, which will automatically take effect unless at least one chamber of the Legislature passes a resolution against it within 60 days of when the governor presents it.
House rules say the committee has 30 days to pass such a resolution and send it to the House floor. But it was unclear exactly when that deadline is.
Committee Chairwoman Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said the ERO came to the committee on Jan. 24, but the House rules weren't passed until Feb. 7. Colloton said she scheduled Monday's hearing as a just-in-case measure to make sure members got a chance if they wanted to propose a resolution.
In the hearing, Parole Board member Patricia Biggs took a softer line than in previous statements. She said the board has adopted "a position of neutrality" and recognizes the ERO as a policy issue for the governor and Legislature.
"The members of the Parole Board are committed to facilitating any and all action necessary to accomplish the transition of its powers, duties and functions to the prison review board under the ERO in an manner that is as seamless as possible," her written testimony read.
Later, she said the testimony wasn't a surrender, but "a recognition that our place in the pecking order is to be policy followers."
In the hearing, however, she did question whether Department of Corrections staffers could meet a standard, set by the Supreme Court, that decisions on whether to send alleged parole violators back to prison have to be made by a "neutral and detached hearing body."
Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts said he thinks his employees could meet that standard.
He said he would pick the members but exercise only a "very limited role" after that.
"Our focus is to absolutely handle it just as the parole board does," he said.
Brownback's office has said eliminating the Parole Board would save slightly less than $500,000.
Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, questioned Roberts on where he would find the personnel in his department to staff the board.
"We cut the budget last year by $14 million," he said. "You still have three people that don't have anything to do? 'Cause that's what you're saying."
Replied Roberts: "No sir, Rep. Moxley, our staff is very busy.... I would not say we have staff sitting around with nothing to do."
He said the department is working to streamline internal procedures to free up time for executives to serve on the review board and for prison staff members to provide case support.