House endorses Kansas constitutional amendment mandating election of sheriffs

Legislators argue measure’s aim is to block interference by county commissioners

By: - February 23, 2022 11:09 am
Kansas House members scan the overhead vote board Wednesday as the chamber approved a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution requiring sheriffs to be elected. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas House members scan the overhead vote board Wednesday as the chamber approved a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution requiring sheriffs to be elected. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas House approved by a wide margin Wednesday a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution mandating sheriffs in the state be elected by the public to avoid the threat of county commissions grabbing authority to dictate who held those law enforcement jobs.

The proposition would establish sheriffs stood for election every four years and a sheriff could be otherwise removed from office only through legal action by the state’s attorney general or by a recall vote in the county.

Objections to the amendment were raised by lawmakers from Riley County, which operates a countywide law enforcement agency. Of the state’s 105 counties, the other 104 elect their sheriff. However, there is controversy in Johnson County about oversight of the sheriff’s department.

Rep. John Resman, a retired deputy sheriff and Republican from Olathe, said the amendment would guarantee sheriffs were unfettered in criminal investigation of city or county government officials. He said sheriffs must have “ultimate authority” over such cases.

Conflict in Johnson County is an insufficient reason for the state to dive into the Kansas Constitution, said Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence.

“As far as I can tell,” Highberger said, “the office of elected sheriff is under no threat whatsoever in at least 103 counties. Allowing the citizens of the entire state to vote to tell an individual county that it must have an elected sheriff is just as much an infringement of local control as when a majority of members of this body vote to tell my community what it can and can’t do.”

House members adopted House Concurrent Resolution 5022 on a vote of 97-24, well above the two-thirds majority required to advance it to the Kansas Senate.

If approved by both chambers of the Legislature, the constitutional amendment would be placed on statewide ballots. A simple majority of Kansans voting an amendment of Sections 2 and 5 of Article 9 of the state constitution would decide its fate.

During the roll call vote, Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, advised people sitting in the House gallery they were forbidden by House rules to take photographs of the large board in the chamber displaying how each of the 125 representatives were voting on the amendment.

“I also don’t appreciate my sheriff sitting in the gallery taking pictures of the voting board,” said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park. “I tweet all of my votes anyway, so that part isn’t an issue, but clearly they are trying to intimidate legislators. That’s very wrong.”

 

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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