Panel slams Brownback proposal to move juvenile justice programs to SRS

Republican and Democratic legislators on Tuesday approved a motion seeking to stop Gov. Sam Brownback from moving several juvenile justice programs to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

The action by the House-Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice came after law enforcement and juvenile experts said the plan by Brownback, a Republican, would harm programs that are helping young people and keeping the public safe. They also said it was proposed without any input from experts in the field.

The committee’s meeting produced testy exchanges between legislators and Brownback’s point man on the issue, SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr.

Several community and law enforcement officials said they were stunned when they learned earlier this month that Brownback planned to issue an executive order to move several major programs out of the Juvenile Justice Authority and place them under SRS.

They said the programs, such as intake and assessment of juvenile offenders and prevention grants, were working fine and SRS was ill-equipped to handle them.

The plan was part of an agency reorganization included in Brownback’s Medicaid overhaul.

Two weeks after the plan was announced on Nov. 8, Siedlecki and Juvenile Justice Authority Commissioner Curtis Whitten invited stakeholders to a Dec. 12 meeting “to discuss this exciting opportunity , as well as, the challenges involved with the transition.”

“This sounds like ready, fire, aim,” Committee Chairwoman Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, told Siedlecki.

Colloton and several other committee members said Siedlecki should have sought input and information from those working in the field before making the proposal.

Siedlecki said the reorganization was needed to bring all children and family issues under one agency. He said several other states had done this. He said the current system is working well but added, “I think we can do better.”

But several legislators said Siedlecki had no details on how the system would perform better under SRS. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park.

Speaking to Siedlecki, who came from Florida last year to work in the Brownback administration, Owens said it was offensive that people have not bothered to learn what is going on in Kansas before trying to change things.

Siedlecki shot back that he has bought a home in Kansas and is paying taxes here. “I prefer you call me a Kansan,” he said.

The meeting room was packed with people who were upset with the Brownback proposal. Many noted that the current juvenile justice system was developed in the late 1990s when it was taken away from SRS because of failings in that agency.

Betsy Gillespie, director of the Johnson County Corrections, has worked in the field for 37 years. She asked, “Why would we disrupt the current system when it has changed so much for the better?”

Ed Klump, representing three law enforcement associations, said the current system allows for local oversight and development in each area of the state.

Mark Masterson, director of the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections, and Stuart Little, with the Kansas Community Corrections Association, also spoke against the proposal.

Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, made a motion recommending that Brownback, at this time, not issue an executive order reorganizing the agencies and programs until more research is done.

“This whole thing hasn’t been vetted enough,” Kelsey said.

The committee approved the recommendation on a voice vote. Only Rep. Jana Goodman, R-Leavenworth, voted against the motion.

By Scott Rothschild

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