TOPEKA, Kan. – When Kansas voters go to the polls in a few weeks, there’s one question that might surprise them.
Kansas Amendment 2, also known as HCR 5022, could impact sheriffs across the state. It comes down to who has the power to push an elected sheriff out of office and if local counties can choose to have a sheriff at all.
Currently, Riley County is the only county in the state without a sheriff. The county consolidated with the city of Manhattan to have one law enforcement agency – the Riley County Police Department. The department’s director answers to a board led by local officials.
In Kansas’ other 104 counties, sheriffs are elected by the people.
But in this year’s Nov. 8 election, Kansas voters will decide if they want to keep it that way.
A “yes” vote means other counties would not be able to eliminate or merge their sheriff’s office with another law enforcement agency, like a local police department.
A “no” vote means county leaders would be able to consolidate – or get rid of their sheriff’s office all together.
Brown County Sheriff John Merchant said it’s a step to protect the office.
“We need consistent, quality, law enforcement across the board,” Merchant said. “In my opinion, you get better law enforcement from an individual who serves as a sheriff vs. somebody that would have to answer to a commission or something like that, that could be swayed or anything. However, the sheriff’s decisions are owned by the sheriff.”
But some groups are calling the amendment an attack on freedom.
“It is bad for local communities, and it is bad for democracy,” said Marla Flentje, a member of Women for Kansas.
Flentje, who also spent seven years as the former Education Director for the Kansas Association of Counties, is questioning the motive behind the amendment.
“Oddly enough, we currently elect county sheriffs, and in 104 counties have done so since nearly the beginning of statehood,” she said. “It would make it virtually impossible for voters to change anything about the office or about law enforcement in their counties.”
Another change would stop local prosecutors from ousting a sheriff.
Right now, the top prosecutor in each county has the power to remove a sheriff from office.
A “yes” vote would prevent that and require the attorney general or a public vote to remove a sheriff from office.
A “no’ vote would allow local prosecutors to continue being a part of the ouster process.
Merchant said preventing local prosecutors from the equation would also remove “politics” from the process.
“Maybe they don’t get along the best or some issues that would arise that would cause questions or turmoil between agencies,” he said. “This basically moves this office of the sheriff up to a higher level.”
However, Flentje said if the amendment passes, it would make it much more difficult to oust a sheriff.
“The outcome of that is likely going to be much harder to remove a sheriff for cause,” she said.
Voters will also see another constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot. It would allow lawmakers to overrule the governor on executive orders.
A “yes” vote would allow lawmakers to stand in the way of rules and regulations passed by the governor. A “no” vote would prevent it.
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