TOPEKA — The House Judiciary Committee revisited legislation originally considered four years ago to loosen state law to allow people convicted of alcohol, gambling and drug misdemeanors to serve as a county sheriff.
Kansas law prohibits people convicted of federal, state or city crimes, such as being a minor in possession of alcohol, from filling one of the 105 sheriff posts in the state. House Bill 2523 would restore eligibility 10 years after the date of conviction.
Chautauqua County Undersheriff Nick Reed, who testified Wednesday in favor of the bill, said the reform would allow him to advance his law enforcement career. Reed has served as an undersheriff for nine years, but is ineligible to be an interim sheriff or run for the office because he was charged with consumption of alcohol as a minor in 1997.
“At some point in time, I’d sure like to run for sheriff,” Reed said. “I cannot do that now just because of a minor in possession I got 20-plus years ago.”
Vignesh Ganapathy, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said a statute clearing the record after 10 years would be insufficient.
“This bill furthers the stigma against people with prior convictions, creating a presumption that even after their sentence a candidate for sheriff would be unable or unfit to serve in law enforcement for a period of 10 years,” Ganapathy said.
In 2014, the Kansas Sheriffs Association lobbied for legislation that would have eliminated special qualifications for sheriffs so anyone eligible to be a law enforcement officer could also serve as a sheriff. This bill passed the Senate unanimously but wasn’t acted on by the House.
Sandy Horton, executive director of the sheriffs association, said he preferred the earlier version but hoped establishment of a 10-year waiting period would increase prospects of a bill clearing the 2018 Legislature.
“My preferred position is to get passage done even with the 10-year look back, but the original proposal we had was to strike those misdemeanors as a disqualification,” Horton said.
There was indication from the committee, however, that members might prefer dropping all requirements rather than adopting a waiting period.
“I highly suspect that there will be a bipartisan amendment offered in the form of what’s called a substitute bill to replace the present bill pending before the committee with the same legislation that was passed in the Senate a couple years ago,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat.
Chairman Blaine Finch, a Republican from Ottawa, said the bill likely would be considered by judiciary committee members next week.