By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers have accepted recommendations from a law enforcement budget committee that include plans for the recruitment and retention of new staffers.
The House Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to accept a budget report from the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee for several law enforcement related agencies in the state. The proposals will include plans for a new recruitment and retention plan within the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The committee’s action does not formalize the plans, as the budget-writing panel uses the recommendations as a guide in developing a final spending proposal for the House of Representatives to consider.
Most of the debate amongst lawmakers came from plans by the public safety budget panel to fund new raises through the state general fund rather than through sweeping the funds from the record check fee fund, which was originally proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback (R). Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) said that the committee wanted to dedicate the fee fund monies to plans that the law enforcement agencies had to upgrade computer programs for state and local law enforcement to conduct immediate background checks on those pulled over in traffic stops.
“That program, updating that has been on the agenda for some time. Using the record check fee fund to use that we felt is extremely important so our law enforcement have the most accurate information possible,” Claeys said. “That’s why we are asking for SGF rather than the fee fund.”
Claeys indicated that the fee fund had been earmarked for the computer program and that taking the needed $900,000 out of the fee fund would halt the projects for the next two fiscal years. The recruitment and retention plan has been part of a several year project by Claeys’ panel to address pay and recruitment issues in the state’s law enforcement community.
“We could have many employees go decades without raises and we choose not to sit idly by and let it go,” Claeys said.
Several lawmakers questioned why the funds were being taken out of the state general fund at a time when the state faces a $535 million budget hole. Lawmakers are grappling with a series of funding issues, including the development of a new tax plan, that will likely include reversal of at least part of the state’s 2012 tax cuts.
Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Ranking Minority Member Henry Helgerson (D-Eastborough) said that while he was in support of the plan to deliver raises within the law enforcement community in the budget recommendations, he wanted to see the raises delivered to more state employees.
At the same time, Helgerson noted that the state’s current fiscal situation means that an across-the-board pay raise plan is unlikely at the present time.
“Maybe it is we have to do it piecemeal until we get through a few other hurdles,” Helgerson said. “I think it is important we let these employees have them.”
A backlog in the processing of rape kits by the KBI was part of the Appropriations Committee discussion on the KBI recruitment and retention plan. Helgerson and Claeys explained to the committee that the hiring of new staff within KBI would allow for the backlog to be addressed and reduce wait times in the future.
House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairwoman Erin Davis (R-Olathe) said that she wanted the committee to have a full-scale discussion and hearing into the rape kit issue.
“It is sort of ridiculous and we need to address this,” Davis said.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Troy Waymaster (R-Russell) said that the committee would hold a hearing into the rape kit issue, potentially as early as next week.
The KBI recruitment and retention plan is part of a broader public safety staffing program that the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee has addressed for the last several years. The program has included the rank and pay plan at the Kansas Highway Patrol, which has brought in new state troopers and a new proposal that Claeys offered to the Appropriations Committee earlier this year to address pay issues within the law enforcement component of the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Claeys said that his panel was trying to address the variety of issues in the public safety arena, including the rape kits and the computer upgrade.
“In our budget committee we see problems in front of us and we attempt to solve them,” he said.