Politics & Government

February 12, 2014

House votes down funding proposal for Judge Riddel Boys Ranch

A proposal to give the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch $750,000 more in state funding got bipartisan support from some Wichita-area lawmakers but failed to pass the full House on Wednesday.

A proposal to give the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch $750,000 more in state funding got bipartisan support from some Wichita-area lawmakers but failed to pass the full House on Wednesday.

The House tentatively approved a 2015 budget for the Department of Corrections that allocates about $364 million from the state general fund for corrections, but strips out a pay increase for classified employees and cuts money for education services for juvenile offenders by 20 percent from Gov. Sam Brownback’s initial proposal.

During the budget discussion, Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, proposed allocating more money for the Judge Riddel ranch, a center for young offenders operated by Sedgwick County.

“It is phenomenally successful in getting kids away from crime,” he said. The county has said it needs more money from the state if it is to continue operating the ranch.

Majority Republicans opposed Ward’s measure, claiming it violated the “paygo” rule that prevents lawmakers from adding spending to a budget without cutting elsewhere.

He then introduced another amendment that called for the same funding for the ranch to be carved out of the juvenile justice budget.

Several Sedgwick County Republicans spoke in support of Ward’s amendment.

Rep. Jim Howell said that a bill he has sponsored, HB 2540, offers a long-term solution. But in order for that to work, he said, the ranch needs to stay open this year.

“If we don’t fund this ranch (this year), it’s like popping a balloon,” he said.

Rep. Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, lamented that funding for juvenile programs has been gutted in the last 10 years.

Other Sedgwick County Republicans were less supportive. Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville, grilled Ward on whether he had been given a guarantee from Sedgwick County commissioners that they would keep the ranch open if the state provided more funding.

Edwards cited an e-mail from commission chairman Dave Unruh telling legislators that a majority of commissioners had decided to send written neutral testimony on Howell’s bill as evidence that the county is not committed to keeping the ranch open.

Ward said the county has been committed to the ranch for years, but has been stretched thin by insufficient state funding.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said the budget vote was not the right forum for the Judge Riddel issue.

In the end, the amendment was defeated 69-48.

Howell said the perceived reluctance of the county to keep the ranch open had helped damage credibility with the House. But he noted that Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, assured him there would be other opportunities to fund the ranch.

County testimony

Howell’s bill, which calls for creation of a youth residential center III category and would mandate a cost study, is set for a hearing Thursday.

In Wichita on Wednesday, County Commissioners Tim Norton, Jim Skelton and Unruh voted to convey a neutral position on that bill. Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau advocated for more than written, neutral testimony, saying lawmakers might have questions for the county. Ranzau plans to go and testify in favor of the bill. Late Wednesday, Unruh said he might go to Topeka to testify on the bill as well.

Unruh stressed to his colleagues that he thinks Kansas Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts has the power, without legislative action, to keep the boys ranch open.

The written testimony reads in part: “We are supportive of the concept of creating a long-term funding solution for youth residential centers for medium to high risk youth that have proven results. … The Board believes that creating a performance based system with matching payment levels is good and sound public policy.”

The commission majority made suggestions for two changes to the bill. They urged that “the new program category be reserved for only youth who are independently assessed as moderate or high risk to reoffend” and that the state pay providers fair market value for services.

The bill advocates funding based on outcomes with the cost to be shared by providers and the state.

“State reimbursements would vary between 90 percent and 75 percent based upon performance measures that have not been identified,” the county’s official testimony says. “We support the idea of providing incentives based upon results; however, the state payment methodology should provide funding for the fair market value of the services. This is the way that the state funds prisons and juvenile correctional facilities, and it should be structured the same way for YRC III providers.”

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