Thethird meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government was held on Wednesday, September 28, 2005, at 10:00 AM, in Room 149 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Damon Thayer, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Senators Walter Blevins, Julian Carroll, Carroll Gibson, Ernie Harris, Dan Kelly, Alice Kerr, Elizabeth Tori, and Johnny Ray Turner; Representatives Ron Crimm, Mike Denham, Ted Edmonds, Derrick Graham, Jimmy Higdon, Charlie Hoffman, Dennis Keene, Tom McKee, Reginald Meeks, Brad Montell, David Osborne, Terry Shelton, and Arnold Simpson.
Guests: Representative Fred Nesler; Kelly White, Department of Corrections; Vince Lang, Owen County Judge/Executive Billy O'Banion, and Shellie Hampton, Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association; Marshall Long and Grayson County Jailer Joey Stanton, Kentucky Jailers' Association; Richard Tanner, Spencer County Magistrate Bill Drury, and Henderson County Magistrate Hugh McCormick, Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association; Ed Ross, Finance and Administration Cabinet; Bill May, Kentucky Sheriffs and County Clerks Association; Bert May, Jerry Deaton, and Phil Huddleston, Kentucky League of Cities; Rich Ornstein and Jay Hall, Governor's Office for Local Development.
LRC Staff: Jamie Franklin, Donna Gaines, Mark Mitchell, Joe Pinczewski-Lee, Donna Holiday, Ann Cheek, Karen Crabtree, Keith Krey, and Cheryl Walters.
Upon the motion of Senator Tori, seconded by Representative Crimm, the minutes of the July 27, 2005 meeting were approved.
The first order of business was a discussion by various organizations on the current situation regarding the costs relating to the care and housing of inmates in county jails. Senator Thayer introduced Mr. Kelly White with the Division of Local Facilities, Department of Corrections.
Mr. White told the Committee that there are 76 full-service jails and 16 life safety jails. He noted that the number of life safety jails is diminishing. Mr. White pointed out that there are 7,000 inmates in county jails. He added that it takes $60 to $70 million of the counties' annual budget to cover jail costs.
Mr. White stated that it is the Department's goal to work with the county jails so when there is a need, they will be there to help. He said the Department conducts inspections of county jails two times a year. Mr. White explained that there are ways that counties can better utilize their funds for jails such as: streamlining the canteen, how they buy food, and collecting money from inmates for their jail stay as permitted by law.
Mr. White mentioned that there is a shortfall in the state's budget for catastrophic medical costs. He noted that jails were allocated $295,000 for catastrophic medical costs this fiscal year and that more than that is needed. Mr. White said the Department is working with the county jails on how much to request for the upcoming budget.
Regarding medical costs, Representative Denham asked if the prisoner is a state inmate in a county jail, why does the county pay. Mr. White replied that the prisoner is not a state inmate until final sentencing and that the county is responsible for all medical and housing expenses until conviction.
Representative Montell asked if inmates' wages can be garnished after they are released from jail. Mr. White stated that there is an exit interview for inmates about reimbursement. He added that the county can take their tax refund and keep any amount in their canteen account.
Representative Graham asked what were some specific things that jails could do to improve cost efficiency. Mr. White replied that jails can cut food and pharmacy costs. He noted that pharmacy costs through the state are lower. Mr. White stated that some jails buy locally, even though it is higher, instead of using a delivery service.
Representative Graham commented that since a prisoner breaks a state law, the inmate should be considered a state inmate and the county should not be solely responsible for their care and expenses while they are awaiting conviction. He said it is not fair to the counties. Representative Graham added that the state should develop a plan to reimburse the counties.
Representative Graham also asked if the state has been neglectful of their financial responsibility toward running county jails, or have counties been inefficient. Mr. White stated that the state has not been neglectful. He said some county jails are efficient and some are not.
Representative Graham stated that we need to provide answers to local officials. He said local officials face an enormous burden on this issue.
Senator Thayer stated that the statutes can be changed to make inmates state prisoners from the time of their arrest and give credit for time served.
Senator Harris commented that there is a statutory provision in the budget to reimburse counties but the state does not have the money.
In terms of the capacity for housing inmates, Representative McKee asked if some jails needed to be closed and if more jails needed to be built. Representative McKee also asked where we are and where do we need to be in terms of capacity. Mr. White stated that life safety jails do not qualify for long term housing. He said there is adequate space today, but it will not take long to exceed what we now have. Mr. White noted that the state is not advocating any new jail construction today.
Representative Keene asked why state medical cards cannot be used by prisoners while they are incarcerated. Mr. White said that decision is not up to the Department of Corrections. He added that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services makes that decision and there are also some federal restrictions in the Medicaid program.
Representative Hoffman stated that counties have the ability to charge inmates for reimbursement. He asked why wouldn't a county pursue it. Mr. White replied that the counties do not think they can get it especially if a prisoner is destitute. Mr. White also noted that some counties use their county attorneys to try to collect money for incarcerations while others have used collection agencies.
Senator Carroll explained that in 1975, a constitutional amendment created the Uniform Court system making most offenses state offenses. He noted that very few offenses are county offenses. Senator Carroll pointed out that the problem is that no one has ever made a decision on who is responsible of taking care of prisoners. He said it has been unresolved for 30 years. Senator Carroll stated that it should be the state's responsibility to operate jails and they should be willing to take responsibility. He added that he is ready for the General Assembly to make a decision. He also said there is the additional issue of getting counties to give up their county jails if the state did offer to take control.
Regarding national disasters, Representative Meeks asked what support does the state provide for counties if jails need to evacuate or need assistance. Mr. White said this issue has not been discussed. He noted that not many states have such a plan but agrees that it is important.
Representative Meeks also asked about the need for drug treatment facilities in jails. Mr. White stated that the Department has been working with Recovery Kentucky on the drug problems of inmates in jails and the need for them to get treatment. He said the largest percentage of people who are incarcerated are there on drug related charges.
Senator Thayer next introduced Mr. Vince Lang, Executive Director of the Kentucky County Judge/Executives Association, Judge/Executive Billy O'Banion, Owen County, Mr. Marshall Long, Executive Director of Kentucky Jailers' Association, and Mr. Joey Stanton, Grayson County Jailer and President of the Kentucky Jailers' Association. Mr. Lang told the committee that the 2005 budget allowed jails a $4 a day increase for prisoners. He noted that there is still a $100 million deficit. Mr. Lang stated that payment from the state does not cover costs and is less than what the state pays to private prisons.
Judge O'Banion told the committee that his county does not have a jail but deals with the same cost issues. He noted that running jails could cause bankruptcy conditions in some counties. Judge O'Banion gave an example of a prisoner who served nine months in a county jail and then pleaded guilty. He added that there was no trial and the state did not pay anything to the county because the prisoner got credit for those nine months served. Judge O'Banion said it is a statutory issue that the General Assembly can control. He mentioned that he would like for the General Assembly to take up the question of whether a prisoner is a state or county prisoner at the time of their arrest, and answer it. Judge O'Banion stated that more jails will continue to close because counties cannot afford to operate them.
Mr. Long told the committee that he appreciates the General Assembly's work on this issue. He noted that the Kentucky Jailers' Association has an excellent relationship with the Department of Corrections.
Mr. Stanton told the Committee that his number one concern is the medical costs that county jails incur. He said he would like to see the General Assembly pass legislation to require that all inmates can only be charged the Kentucky medical assistance rate. Mr. Stanton illustrated his request by explaining that his county received a $130,000 hospital bill for a prisoner who had a heart attack in jail. He noted that he had negotiated to get the hospital bill reduced to $80,000, which was paid out of the jail fund. Mr. Stanton said he then submitted the bill to the Department, who negotiated again and got the KMA rate. In the end, his county only got back $35,000. He said it would seem more efficient to only need to negotiate one time.
Representative Denham pointed out that in 1976, the constitutional amendment was supposed to offer a compromise between state and county medical costs.
Representative Montell asked if such legislation were enacted, could hospitals refuse to treat the prisoners. Mr. Stanton said he is not sure, but hospitals are not refusing to treat prisoners now. Representative Montell also asked if inmates use their private insurance plans. Mr. Stanton replied that insurance is billed if available
Mr. Stanton also stated that he would like to see jailers take a qualifying test before they run for office like the PVA's.
Senator Gibson agreed that jailers should take a test. He said jailers who are holding office now should be required to take a test as well. Senator Gibson then addressed a local situation which had occurred in his area. He said a bond had been reduced on an inmate who was ill because the county could not afford the medical costs. Once released on the lower bond, the prisoner then went to another county and committed a murder. He said he does not want to see more of this happening over medical costs.
Representative Meeks asked what the offenses were of inmates in the county jails. Judge O'Banion replied that the two main offenses were domestic violence and drugs.
Representative Simpson asked what other states are doing in regard to housing state prisoners in local jails. Mr. Stanton said he did not know, but that Kentucky is one of the lowest paid states for housing state inmates. Representative Simpson asked staff to find out what other states are doing and to also find out why the court system changed in 1975.
Judge O'Banion also noted that counties can no longer afford to use Class D felony prisoners for local work release due to the potential liability to a county.
Senator Thayer lastly introduced Mr. Richard Tanner, Executive Director of the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association, Mr. Bill Drury, Spencer County Magistrate, and Mr. Hugh McCormick, Henderson County Magistrate.
Mr. Drury told the committee that 80% of their jail budget comes out of Spencer County's general fund. He noted that his county had to pay $58,000 in medical costs for an inmate who had a stroke and was later found innocent.
Mr. McCormick told the committee the increasing number of jailable offenses being created by the legislature and the backlog of getting inmates through the court system hurts counties. He also noted that the local doctors in his county would not see inmates and the inmates had to be transported out of town for medical service or counties are creating their own clinics. Mr. McCormick stated that the drug abuse problem continues to drive up medical and dental costs for county jails. In some counties, 40 to 50% of the general fund budget goes to jails. He said the increasing number of beds having to be created in county jails is actually creating mini-prisons. Mr. McCormick also agreed that a disaster emergency plan to evacuate prisoners is needed. He lastly said that increasing utility and gasoline prices are driving up jail costs and there is an increasing need for bi-lingual skills for jail staff.
Mr. Tanner suggested that medical bills over $2500 be billed directly to the state. He said he sees no problem with testing jailers but would not want the completion of testing tied to money from the state.
Senator Thayer commented that the crux of this seems to be who is going to run and pay for jails in Kentucky. He said this will be a legislative issue this session. He also suggested it would be better to have a comprehensive jail packet instead of piecemeal legislation.
Representative Denham asked how many federal prisoners there are in Kentucky and what is the federal per diem given to Kentucky jails. Mr. McCormick stated that there are 35 federal prisoners at this time in his jail. He said every jail gets a different per diem from the federal government, depending on how well they can negotiate their agreement.
Representative Montell suggested a task force be created to come up with a package to present to the 2006 General Assembly. Senator Thayer stated that the co-chairs could appoint a working group. It was suggested that such a group should look at the state picking up at least the cost of higher or more serious crimes and ways to make sure prisoners pay for their debt from incarceration.
Senator Tori stated that she was concerned that no one was mentioning alternative sentencing as an alternative to incarceration. She said she would like to see a projection of what jails could save if there was alternative sentencing methods available.
Senator Kelly asked if symptoms of a stroke had anything to do with the previously discussed prisoner being arrested. Mr. Drury replied no.
The next item of business was review of Kentucky Administrative Regulation 109 KAR 11:021. Senator Thayer introduced Mr. Ed Ross, State Controller with the Finance and Administration Cabinet (FAC), to explain the regulation.
Mr. Ross explained that 109 KAR 11:021 is repealing 109 KAR 11:020, which relates to the reimbursement to law enforcement officers of certain expenses. Upon agreement and at the request of the FAC, Senator Tori moved, seconded by Senator Gibson to defer 109 KAR 11:021 until the committee's November meeting. The motion carried by voice vote.
The last item of business was review of the City of Georgetown's audit that had been referred to the committee by LRC. Senator Thayer explained that there was a computer services scandal in the City of Georgetown. He said the Auditor of Public Accounts was asked to conduct an audit of the city and there was also a criminal investigation. He noted that the audit was being submitted to the members for their review and that without objection, the committee would report back to LRC regarding their review of the report without further comment.
Senator Thayer announced that the next meeting of the committee would be held on October 6th at the Kentucky League of Cities' annual convention in Louisville. He said the committee's November meeting, which will also be the final interim meeting, would be on the 16th.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:35 p.m.