House City County Local
February 15, 2023
Rep L Fite: Call this meeting to order. Chair sees a quorum. If you’d like to speak for or against the bill, I’d ask you to sign up to my left right here. First order of business, House Bill 1399 by Representative Cavenaugh. Without objection I’ll put on a special order next week. And seeing no objections, we’ll do that. And we’ll get started. Representative Underwood wants us to pass over his House Bill 1207 today. Is Representative Johnson in the room right now? Okay. If not, Representative Berry, are you ready to present Senate Bill 72?
Rep Berry: Ready.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Proceed to the table and identify yourself, and you may proceed.
Rep S Berry: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have before the committee today Senate Bill 72. And with your permission may I ask Sheriff John Montgomery to come to the table with me?
Rep L Fite: Yes. Sheriff, if you would, when get to the table identify yourself for the record.
Rep Berry: I’m Stan Berry, District 44.
Montgomery (BCS): I’m John Montgomery, I’m the Sheriff of Baxter County.
Rep S Berry: We have a bill before you this morning committee that, I understand it’s an agreed upon bill. Department of Correction Association of Counties and Sheriff Association. What this bill does, it sets a date for which the county jails can start being reimbursed for the people that they’re have incarcerated with them. It’s a real simple bill. It pays for the– At that particular date it would pay– start paying reimbursement for the expenses, the housing, food, and transportation to and from, and medical expenses also. Do you have any?
Montgomery (BCS): I’ve got just a couple of quick things. And Chairman Fite, you’ll be happy to know that I’m not going to talk about repeat offenders today. Sort of a private joke if you’ve– the past. So, the short version fo this, and I’m going to give you just a quick overview of this, because I’m sure y’all have been contacted on this. The Department of Corrections, when a person gets in front of a judge and the judge sentences them to prison, in a perfect world we would load them into a van and we would take them straight to the prison. But we don’t have a perfect world, we’ve got a crowding problem. And I think the last number I heard was about 1900 backed up right now in the county jails waiting to go. So, they leave the courtroom and they go to the county jail. Well, the average cost kind of across the state to hold an inmate’s a little over $60 a day. The state reimburses us for $40, but there’s an if. So, once the judge sentences them they are now the state’s responsibility, but there’s a section in the law that says that the state will begin paying from day one for both housing and medical, if the correct paperwork is filed with the Department of Corrections in 21 days. Now, I can tell you that didn’t used to be a problem. It was pretty simple, because prior to Act 570, which I’m sure some of you know that bill, the sentencing order was about 1 to 2 pages long, now it’s about 10 to 12. And there’s so many little blanks and check marks. And so, if that sentencing order is not totally correct they kick it back; the judge then has to resign the order.
So, if it’s not done with 21 days we don’t get paid. And what this bill simply does is remove the 21 day limit, and says we’re going to get paid from day one. And the medical expense to house or to take care of that state inmate is going to be taken care of. Now, to protect the Department of Corrections and the State of Arkansas, they’re not going to pay us until the paperwork is correct, and to me that’s fair. So, if it takes two months then we don’t get paid for two months, but that’s what this bill simply does, is it says, hey, we’re going to eliminate that 21 day rule that’s in the law and make it from day one. I’d be happy to answer any questions if you have any.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Rye, you are recognized.
Rep Rye: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sheriff John, in a case like this, what do we do? Do we just lose money for that period? And also, Sheriff John, is there an impact on this?
Montgomery (BCS): There is an impact. There was an impact study done and they estimate it’s about $4.7 million, is what the estimate that would go back to the counties. And the only thing I would say to that, this is money already owed to the counties. It’s not like we’re asking for something new. It’s just because of that 21 day rule. So, I’m going to give you one quick example that happened to us. We had an inmate that had been in our jail for 130 days and the paperwork was not correct. So, the problem is we’ve not only lost 130 days’ worth of reimbursement to us, but also the medical that we had to pay. Well, as it turns out, there was a couple of errors done by the Prosecutor’s Office, but then it sat in the judge’s queue for 45 days before the judge signed it. Well, that’s not our fault, so we don’t feel like we should be penalized. Again, because these are state inmates that we’re holding because there’s no room at the inn.
Rep Rye: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rep Ray: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sheriff, the estimate that you just mentioned, the $4 million estimate, who came up with that estimate?
Montgomery (BCS): Well, Senator Hickey sponsored this bill and he asked for an impact study, so I don’t have that in front of me but I know there’s one here.
Rep Ray: Representative Berry, is there a fiscal impact statement on the bill?
Rep S Berry: I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were directing that to me.
Speaker 1: Yes, sir. Representative Berry, is there–? I was just looking on the website here–
Rep L Fite: Representative Berry, turn your microphone on before you respond.
Rep Ray: –and I don’t see a fiscal impact listed on the website. Has one been performed by the agency or BLR?
Montgomery (BCS): If I might real quickly. I had that, unfortunately at the Senate Committee, I left campsite this morning at 4:30 and I did not bring that with me. But there was one that was given to the Senate Committee week before last. So, I believe it was $4.7 if I remember correctly.
Rep Ray: I just wonder why it wouldn’t be on the website listed under the bill?
Rep L Fite: Okay. The staff here does not have it either.
Rep Ray: I mean, I’m in support of the bill. I think is a good bill.
Rep Berry: I mean, I don’t have an answer for it.
Rep Ray: It’s customary I think to have a fiscal impact statement on something that costs $4 million dollars.
Rep S Berry: I don’t have an impact statement if that’s what we’re asking.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Let’s proceed and see if we can get that impact statement for the bill here if we can. Okay. Are you through?
Rep Ray: Yes, sir.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Collins, you’re recognized.
Rep Collins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to make sure, do you not think that we’re inadvertently removing a factor that might help expedite these sentencing orders, do you? Because I wouldn’t want things to take longer because you’re removing something that could incentivize the system to move on a little bit?
Montgomery (BCS): I’m assuming you’re talking to me?
Rep Collins: Yeah, yeah. Sure.
Montgomery (BCS): Yeah. So, Representative Collins, I don’t believe so. And I’ll tell you the reason why I don’t think so. Number one, we don’t have anything to do with those sentencing orders, okay? So, they come from the Prosecutor’s Office and once it’s done the judge signs it, it’s submitted. If it’s incorrect it’s kicked back, and they have to redo that sentencing order. The judge has to resign it and resubmit it. So, there’s not a whole lot we can do other than beg the Prosecutor’s Office to hurry. In this case, you’ve got– there’s no money. In other words, we’re not going to get paid until that sentencing order’s correct. That’s what we agreed to with the Department of Corrections is sort of that way to make sure– obviously there’s going to be a big impact if we don’t get paid. So, I think in some ways it puts the entire county, going back to trying to get that paperwork correct, rather than just the Sheriff or the jail administrator.
Rep Collins: If I could just follow up real quick? I guess what I’m asking you is, currently, do you guys hassle the prosecutor and try to get the process moving because you want to get paid?
Montgomery (BCS): Correct. And now you’ll have other county officials that’ll also be, I hate to use the word hassling, but–
Rep Collins: You know what I mean.
Montgomery (BCS): Trying to get the Prosecutor’s Office. And again, I want to go back. This used to be a simple process, a one or two page form. It has become extremely cumbersome, and somewhere down the road I think we need to readdress those sentencing orders to make them much more simple, because there’s just a lot of data collected on those. But it’s kind of like, if you check box A then you’ve got to go on page 3 and check box B, and if you don’t, well the order’s not correct. And so, some of those things can certainly be streamlined. That’s not for today’s discussion but I think it should be brought up at some point.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Long, you’re recognized.
Rep Long: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sheriff, I’m just wanting to make sure the beginning date would be the day that the person is convicted?
Montgomery (BCS): That’s correct. So, when they stand up in front of the judge, and that could be– a vast majority of cases are pleas–
Rep Long: Right.
Montgomery (BCS): –but it wouldn’t make any difference. If the jury said or the judge said you’re guilty, it’s that date of conviction. So, when the judge says, “I find you guilty,’ that’s when the date starts.
Rep L Fite: You have a follow-up question? Okay. Yes, you’re recognized.
Rep Long: And my understanding is, once the person’s convicted they’re not the county’s problem anymore. Then basically the responsibility of the state begins at that moment.
Montgomery (BCS): That is correct, other than we’d have to house them, but yes.
Rep Long: Yes, sir.
Montgomery (BCS): And keep in mind the reimbursement rate is not actual cost. We’re grateful, don’t get me wrong because I can remember starting at, I think it was $26 a day, so to get it up to $40, which is what it currently is, we’re extremely grateful. But that’s
still a pretty good gap between what the actual cost is and what we’re being reimbursed.
Rep Long: Thank you, Sheriff.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Any other questions? Representative Berry?
Rep S Berry: Do we an impact study? An impact study?
Speaker 2: We have. Mr. Chairman, we’ve emailed it to Mr. [Terry?].
Rep S Berry: Okay.
Rep L Fite: You’re recognized, Representative Ray.
Rep Ray: I was just gonna ask a question, if that’s okay?
Rep L Fite: Okay. Yes, you’re recognized.
Rep Ray: Okay. Sheriff, what is the typical amount of time in your experience that it takes to get the paperwork completed on these inmates?
Montgomery (BCS): And again, I can only speak for my county because it’s a snapshot because every day is going to change. But the day that this sort of came to light, we had roughly 25 in our facility waiting to go and we had seven of those that were not correct. Now, we checked it again a month later and I think we had three that weren’t correct. So, it’s not that every single one of them isn’t correct, but again– there’s so much room for error. And because the law says, currently says, “correct sentencing order,” that’s where the rub lies. And so, we’ve discovered that the counties for years, the county sheriffs or whoever, for years have not been getting what’s actually, the state is supposed to be paying us. And so, this again cleans that up and says, “We’re not going to pay you until the paperwork’s correct, but we’re going to start paying you from day one.”
Rep Ray: And what is your actual cost to house an inmate per day versus what you get from the state?
Montgomery (BCS): Well, we do —
Rep Ray: I’m sorry, versus what you get from the state?
Montgomery (BCS): Legislative Audit does an audit and I believe it’s 1/3 of the county’s each year that they do. And so, in our case the number’s a little over $60. And that’s pretty close, I mean, that’s– you’re going to have some counties that are a little more and some that’s going to be not as much. What happened in our case, our cost went up because we were so full and had inmates sleeping on the floor. And again, largely in part to back-up from the state, we had to build on our facility at several million dollars. So, obviously you have to hire more staff, et cetera, so the cost was up to house those. But answer to your question, it’s a little over $60 a day is what the average is.
Rep Ray: Okay. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Representative Holcomb, you’re recognized.
Rep Holcomb: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Since we have a little time, Sheriff, I just– I know that you move these inmates out when beds become available at ADC. On average, I know some probably move out quicker when they have bed space. I know some of them you probably had to keep a log time. Can you give us just a little idea of that, just for the committee’s information?
Montgomery (BCS): Yes, sir, Representative Holcomb. And I will try not to talk about repeat offenders Representative Fite– when I answer your question. So, keep in mind a lot of the times these inmates have been sitting in our jail for months and months and months prior to conviction. So, prior to conviction we’re taking care of them completely. Right now it’s averaging about, and I believe the number’s 3 to 4 months, and I’m going to turnaround, 3 to 4 months. It’s over 100 days.
Rep Holcomb: And then, depending on how– excuse me. Follow-up? I’m sorry Mr. Chairman.
Rep L Fite: Yes, you’re recognized.
Rep Holcomb: Of course, and then depending on how heavy the court docket is whether you get them there or not, you may have them that much time before they become state inmates.
Montgomery (BCS): I’ve got, I can think of three inmates in my facility right now that’s been there for more than two years–
Rep Holcomb: My goodness, yeah.
Montgomery (BCS): –that’s not been to trial yet.
Rep Holcomb: Thank you. Sheriff. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rep L Fite: Okay, we’re trying to get that impact statement and we should have it momentarily here. Tell you what, we’ll recess here and we’ll reconvene and make this back. All right. Return, I mean, we’re recessed.
Rep L Fite: We’ll reconvene. You have the impact statement before you. Representative Ray, are you here? Oh, sorry. Okay. Has everybody had time to look it over? Have any questions? I think our problem was this was with the Department of Corrections that did this, and so, it wasn’t on the DFA website, it was our issue with this.
Rep S Berry: Mr. Chairman, I apologize for all this and committee, apologize to y’all too.
Rep L Fite: Representative Ray, you’re recognized.
Rep Ray: Yes. I guess my only question would be is, does the governor’s office has a position on this bill or on this expenditure?
Rep S Berry: We’re not for sure.
Rep Ray: Okay.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Sheriff, did you have something you wanted to say?
Montgomery (BCS): Well, the only thing I was going to say, Representative, we’ve not heard any opposition from anyone. And the Department of Corrections actually helped us draft this bill. There was several iterations went back and forth. So, I don’t want to say absolutely not, but we’ve had zero pushback, if you will.
Rep L Fite: Okay. So, seeing no more questions [inaudible]. You’re recognized to close for your bill.
Rep S Berry: Well, and again, I apologize for the confusion and I appreciate the getting the impact study. At the proper time I’ll make a motion.
Rep L Fite: This is the proper time.
Rep S Berry: Okay. Make a motion of do pass on Senate Bill 72.
Rep L Fite: We have a motion of do pass. Any discussion on the motion? Seeing none, all in favor say, aye.
Rep L Fite: Those opposed say, no. Congratulations you passed your bill. Okay. Representative Evans has, he’s going to pull his bill back down. And also, Representative Johnson is not going to be here. And seeing no other business for the day we are adjourned.