Constitutional amendments dealing with state legislative power and local control will appear on Kansans’ ballots in the Nov. 8 election.
University of Kansas law scholars during a nonpartisan panel on campus Thursday evening discussed the meanings and possible outcomes of the amendments, which student moderator Saihaj Parmar said “would shift the balance of power in our state.”
Panelists included Amii Castle, who is a professor at both KU’s schools of law and business and an attorney, and Emily Depew, a third-year KU law student. KU student Faith Lopez, along with Parmar, moderated the discussion.
Castle explained two-thirds of the state Legislature must vote to add an amendment to the ballot. Kansas’ Republican-dominated Legislature placed two amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Legislative veto amendment
One proposed amendment, the “Legislative Veto or Suspension of Executive Agency Regulations Amendment,” would allow the Kansas Legislature to overturn decisions made by administrative agencies in Kansas with a simple majority vote.
If the Legislature does not agree with a rule or regulation that an administrative agency passes regarding, for example, health and safety, it currently has the power to revoke or suspend that rule or regulation if it’s able to pass a law, but the governor is then able to veto.
“Something to keep in mind with almost all constitutional amendments is that if you vote ‘no,’ you’re maintaining what is already in our constitution. A vote ‘yes’ would be an amendment to the constitution,” Depew said.
A “no” vote to the amendment would maintain the current process; a “yes” vote would eliminate the governor from the process and allow the Legislature to revoke or suspend an agency’s rule or regulation based on a simple majority vote of 51% of legislators in favor.
“Think about the rules and regulations that are promulgated by the Department of Health and Agriculture. Those are rules that are supposed to protect our health and safety,” Castle said. “And so this amendment would take power from the executive branch, take power from the governor, and hand that power to 51% of our state Legislature.”
Depew said many proponents of the bill are groups and organizations in the business and agricultural fields, in part because they feel their members are under excessive regulation. Many opponents of the bill cited contempt with “legislative oversight,” she said.
Castle said one concern of the amendment is that Kansas’ Republican-driven legislature will start overturning rules in place without the proper expertise.
“Republicans have a reputation of not liking regulations,” Castle said. “So the concern would be that our legislators would begin trying to revoke agency rules and regulations that protect us.”
“… One of the concerns is that you’re gonna have these legislators – these lawmakers – who are going to decide, ‘Well this regulation’s good, this regulation’s not good,’ and it’s not their area of expertise.”
Depew added, on the other hand, some voters believe “maybe it wouldn’t change a lot because the Legislature already has the power to review administrative rules and regulations.”
Election of county sheriffs amendment
The second proposed amendment would require the election of county sheriffs. Even if a county decides to consolidate its government moving forward, it would still be required to elect its highest law enforcement official, Castle said.
The amendment would also shift the power to initiate the recall of county sheriffs solely to the state attorney general rather than district attorneys or local county attorneys.
Currently, if voters are unhappy with their county sheriff, they can petition to recall them, and 40% of voters represented in signatures will result in a recall. The amendment does not challenge the voter’s right to petition, Castle said, but what it does is remove local attorneys’ power to file an ouster proceeding.
“So currently, both the attorney general and our local county or district attorneys have the power to initiate a proceeding against the sheriff,” Castle said. “This amendment would take that power from all local county attorneys, and they would have absolutely no power to initiate an investigation.”
Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister in a letter to the Times on Thursday expressed his support of the amendment, stating the amendment will “codify into our Constitution the protection of your ability to always vote for your sheriff.”
Armbrister also wrote, “It’s best that local politics or personal feelings not be part of any ouster proceeding decisions,” especially when the sheriff’s office and DA or local attorneys find their partnership “at odds.” Read his column in full at this link.
“In reality, if you have a local DA or county attorney who believes that a sheriff is doing bad things, it’s probably not going to be that little attorney who’s going to file the ouster preceding,” Castle said. “They’re probably going to get another county attorney in because that attorney’s gonna have to continue to work with the sheriff and have a good working relationship … But the point is that if the amendment passes, they can’t even go to their neighboring local county attorneys and ask them to get involved.”
Only one Kansas county — Riley County, which consolidated its municipal police departments and its sheriff’s office in the 1970s — does not elect a sheriff.
A “no” vote to the amendment would not remove the public’s current right to elect a sheriff in the other Kansas counties.
‘Vote early and be educated’
In regard to voting on both amendments, Depew said Kansas voters should observe what other states have done with similar amendments as well as “vote early and be educated.”
For more information on the amendments, Depew said she suggests voters visit the Kansas Legislature’s website for testimonies on different sides of the arguments. HCR 5014 is the legislative veto amendment, and HCR 5022 is the sheriff election amendment. Castle suggested Ballotpedia as a trusted resource, as well.
Sponsors of Thursday’s panel included League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County; Loud Light; Kansas Interfaith Action; Mainstream Coalition; League of Women Voters of Johnson County; and League of Women Voters of Wichita-Metro.
Check this voter guide to learn what else is on the ballot.
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