Topeka A decision on whether to reject Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to abolish the Kansas Parole Board is on hold in the Senate.
The Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to delay further consideration of Brownback’s executive reorganization order until March 8. The delay gives senators more time to consider the proposal and for negotiations to continue with the Republican governor.
Chairman Tim Owens said he was prepared to move a resolution rejecting Brownback’s order out of committee and look for other solutions with the governor to accomplish his goals.
“I want to move this along. I’m not a game player. Let’s not drag this out,” said Owens, an Overland Park Republican.
Brownback wants to abolish the parole board and move the three-member panel’s functions to the Department of Corrections. The move would save about $500,000, according to the governor’s office, through elimination of the parole board’s salaries and shifting the work to existing corrections staff.
Senators question whether it will save any money and whether the rights of inmates and parole violators will be preserved by giving the corrections department the final say on release from prison.
“I don’t see how it can be done properly and independently,” said Sen. Jean Schodorf, a Wichita Republican.
Sen. Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said a solution that’s being considered calls for the governor to appoint a three-member panel to serve as the review board instead of corrections staff.
“I’d like to give the opportunity to the administration to respond to these concerns,” Bruce said. “I’m not married to the idea that there is a (due process) violation.”
Owens disagrees, calling the move of the parole board to the corrections department “the fox guarding the hen house.”
“I have a real concern about that,” he said, adding he didn’t want any changes just for financial considerations.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the parole board discussions.
The change is part of Brownback’s effort to reorganize state government. Included in those changes are abolition of the Kansas Arts Commission, moving the Kansas Health Policy Authority to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s division of health and moving the Animal Health Department to the Department of Agriculture.
The parole board reorganization order was sent to both legislative chambers to consider. If it isn’t rejected through adoption of a resolution after 60 days, the change to the parole board would take effect July 1, the start of the state’s next fiscal year.
House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Chairwoman Pat Colloton said her committee had discussed the order and voiced similar concerns. However, committee members chose not to offer a resolution rejecting the order.
Colloton, a Leawood Republican, said she was aware of the Senate’s negotiations with the governor’s office to find an alternative approach.