TOPEKA The Kansas Senate's top Republican called for GOP Gov. Sam Brownback to give corrections officers at state prisons an immediate pay increase, adding to the bipartisan pressure for quick action in the wake of recent disturbances at a maximum-security prison.
Senate President Susan Wagle issued a statement Wednesday urging Brownback to take "executive action immediately." She toured the El Dorado Correctional Facility with hometown Republican Sen. Bruce Givens and Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood.
The Department of Corrections has confirmed three inmate disturbances at the El Dorado prison in May and June and a pair of inmate-on-inmate stabbings on July 28. The maximum-security prison is struggling with an annual turnover rate among uniformed officers of 46 percent, and they are sometimes working 16-hours shifts because of staffing shortages.
"There is also no question that corrections employees deserve a pay increase," Wagle said in her statement.
Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby said the governor's office is working with Norwood to "examine and evaluate various options to address challenges facing the Department of Corrections."
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, called on Brownback to give corrections officers raises effective Sept. 1, arguing that lawmakers could add money to the budget to cover the extra costs after they convene their next annual session in January. Lawmakers adjourned for the year in June.
Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican who is chairman of a House budget subcommittee on public safety, has urged Brownback to call a special legislative session to provide pay raises for uniformed corrections officers.
Ward has called for an immediate 10 percent pay increase. Claeys has suggested that an increase of up to 20 percent could be necessary, though that could cost up to $20 million a year. Wagle said she would leave the size of the increase to Brownback and Norwood.
But Wagle said, "The state can move forward to address these concerns without a special session."