A spat over the cost of prosecuting domestic abuse cases has led to Topeka, Kansas, repealing its domestic abuse ordinance.
The Shawnee County district attorney said he wouldn't be able to prosecute the cases anymore because of budget cuts. That meant the responsibility fell on the city of Topeka - money officials there said they didn't have either. The Topeka City Council then repealed the domestic abuse ordinance.
That sent people in the Kansas capital, and others elsewhere across the nation, into a frenzied debate about whether these cases should be allowed to fall by the wayside.
The outrage grew after news came out that 30 suspects accused of domestic abuse had not been prosecuted because of the budget standoff that began a month ago.
District Attorney Chad Taylor told CNN his office is now forced to handle the domestic battery cases, as a measure of public safety, despite not having the funds to do so.
Of course, it isn't the first time cities and states have had to grapple with tough decisions on what kind of programs and services are cut because of a lack of money. But this case, and the fierce reaction to it, made us think about the current state of budget issues across the country and exactly what other creative measures governments were taking to make up for slashed budgets.
Here’s a glance at how some are dealing with the problems:
Having low-level inmates help fight fires?
One Georgia county’s proposed solution to its budget woes is an inmate firefighter program, according to The Florida-Times Union.
In Camden County, the program, which would be available only to a specific, select group of prisoners, would save an estimated $500,000, officials told the paper. The inmates would fight fires alongside regular firefighters, according to the newspaper. That’s been an issue of contention, though some officials said the state and other counties already had a successful similar program in place, the paper said.
Unsupervised parole for released inmates?
In Seattle, some unsupervised parole could be a possibility, one that a Washington Department of Corrections official has called “devastating,” according to The Seattle Times.
“Under one proposal, roughly 12,000 of the 17,000 felons now supervised in the state's version of parole would be unsupervised upon release from prison,” the paper wrote. The article noted that some of those who are released would have serious felonies under their belt, including murder. There are other proposals under consideration, including early release of some prisoners as well as an increase in inmates' health-care co-pays.
Want a divorce in San Francisco? Cuts may make it take twice as long
Budget cuts have been curtailing courts’ ability to operate for years, making them reduce operating hours, increase fees and prolong adjudication. In 2009, an Ohio judge told The Columbus Dispatch that his municipal court temporarily had to stop accepting new cases because it was about to run out of paper.
This year in California – one of 40 states to have slashed their court funding last year, according to the American Bar Association – the San Francisco Superior Court’s presiding judge said she expects already-long waiting times to try cases to get even longer. Uncontested divorces may soon take a year to resolve, up from the current six-month wait, Judge Katherine Feinstein told The Economist. A typical lawsuit may soon take five years to go to trial, up from two years, she said.
San Francisco also is closing its Parole Re-entry Court, a pilot program designed to keep serious offenders out of prison, and its Probation Alternatives Court, which gave offenders rehabilitation services instead of prison time, according to The New York Times. The programs had been successful: Only 12% of the first program’s parolees had ever been returned to prison, and none of the latter's defendants went to prison, the Times reported.
Washington state cancels presidential primary
Washington state voters who might wish to help the GOP choose its presidential contender at the ballot box next year are out of luck.
Facing a $5 billion state budget gap, Washington officials chose to save $10 million by canceling the state’s nonbinding 2012 presidential primary. The state’s Democratic and Republican parties will now rely solely on their own precinct caucuses and state conventions.
Because the primary was nonbinding, state parties effectively chose which candidates to support through the caucus/convention system anyway. But the state’s top election officer, Secretary of State Sam Reed, said he preferred primaries because they allow a greater number of people to weigh in. In 2008, for example, less than 100,000 people attended the state’s caucuses, while 1.4 million people voted in the presidential primary, Reed’s office said.
Read more at the secretary of state’s website.
Cutting state funeral service aid; bodies pile up at county level
Some counties in Kansas are having to pay for the cremation of unclaimed bodies after the state ended funding for a program that helped pay for the funerals of those too poor to pay for it themselves, according to The Topeka Capitol-Journal.
The program gave $550 to those who qualified, but since the $520,000 budget was slashed by the state last year, now the cost is being passed down to the county level, where unclaimed bodies are piling up, according to the paper. And if nobody claims the body, the county has to pay for cremation, the paper said.
For other interesting ways that governments have tried to cut their budgets, take a look at CNNMoney.com’s gallery of last year’s quirkiest cut programs.