Topeka House and Senate negotiators expect to agree on immigration legislation, but county sheriffs are worried about spending more money to keep illegal immigrants in jail.
The Senate version says illegal immigrants arrested for crimes face specific bail amounts, ranging from no bail for the most serious felonies, such as murder, to $10,000 for certain misdemeanors. In between, bail could be $25,000, $50,000 or $250,000, depending on the severity of the crime.
The Kansas Sheriff's Association is urging the negotiators to rewrite the legislation to allow a judge to consider all factors in deciding whether the mandatory bail requirements are appropriate in each case.
"Jail overcrowding already exists in the urban counties of Kansas, and this amendment only serves to increase the jail space problem and fiscal burdens experienced at the county level," Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning said in a letter to negotiators on Tuesday.
Because the two chambers were in session throughout the day, the three House and three Senate negotiators were unable to meet. They planned to sit down today to start work.
Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, the House's lead negotiator, said that the sheriffs raise a valid issue.
"That is an issue of high concern. I'm very concerned about it," said the Olathe Republican, a retired police officer. "I'm concerned about the unintended consequences to local governments."
Denning said that last year his county received only 30 percent of the actual costs to house 127 illegal immigrants. He said that in 2005 his jail held 44 illegal immigrants and their average stay was 93 days. That cost was $428,476, but the county received only $130,457 from the federal government, he said.
Siegfreid said if federal officials won't pick up illegal immigrants sooner, "all they are going to do is run up expenses for the counties."
"If you put a $250,000 bail on an illegal immigrant, their ability to post bail is limited," he said.
Sen. Pete Brungardt, his chamber's top negotiator, agreed that counties are concerned about the costs and it's an issue negotiators will have to work out. Even so, he was confident an agreement will be reached on the bill.
"There's a pretty strong interest by legislators to address immigration. With that as a premise, I think we'll reach agreement," the Salina Republican said. "Legislators on both sides want to say they have something they voted on."