Gov. Sam Brownback’s quest for a new Lansing prison will soon face another challenge.
Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, told The Star on Tuesday that he plans to introduce a bill that could further delay the Brownback administration’s attempt to have one of the nation’s largest private prison operators build a new Lansing prison.
Claeys said the bill essentially would pull back the Lansing project from the nine-member State Finance Council and put it in the hands of the Kansas Legislature.
The finance council, which includes Brownback as well as Republican and Democratic leaders from the House and Senate, agreed last week to delay consideration of a proposed lease-to-own arrangement for the new Lansing prison until Jan. 18.
It’s unclear if the the bill will win legislative support.
“Certainly the goal is to try to get it passed by the 18th, but I think also the other side of that is that there is some pressure being applied that this shouldn’t be in the hands of nine people,” Claeys said.
He said the bill, which he plans to introduce Wednesday, “takes the control away from a nine-member board, led by the governor, that is making a decision on (362) million dollars in spending and gives it back to the Legislature.”
“We’re in session,” Claeys said. “There’s no reason for a nine-member board to be making a decision of that magnitude when the legislators are sitting right here and capable of debating this project.”
A Corrections Department spokesman did not immediately comment when asked about Claeys’ bill.
Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican on the finance council, said getting the bill approved before the council meets on Jan. 18 would be a “tremendous feat legislatively.”
“I think it’s more of a statement being made than anything else,” he said.
Prison officials plan to have CoreCivic Inc., formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, design, build, finance and maintain the new prison. The state would staff and operate it.
The proposal, which would cost Kansas roughly $362 million over 20 years, calls for a 1,920-bed maximum- and medium-security unit and a 512-bed minimum-security unit that would be built over two years.
Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood has been pushing for the project in several legislative committees, but has faced continued questions from lawmakers
Some critics have said the process has been rushed and the financing method is questionable for replacing the state’s largest and oldest prison.
The Star reported late last year that Brownback’s former chief of staff, David Kensinger, and another former Brownback staffer were registered as lobbying on behalf of CoreCivic. Brownback’s office said in late November that it was not involved in the selection of CoreCivic.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, said there are consequences if the project is delayed.
“It may well be that delaying is the right decision,” he said. “But I would hate for us to be forced into that without an alternative because there are at least $12 million in deferred maintenance projects that have been put on hold at Lansing because they thought they were going to build a new facility.”