Senate passes bill requiring local commission vacancies to be filled; body camera bill fails

Sen. David Haley
Sen. David Haley

State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., succeeded in getting a provision passed in the Kansas Senate that would require cities and counties to fill vacancies on councils or commissions.

His bill to require police to wear body cameras while on patrol was not successful, however. He tried to amend another bill with the body camera provisions for law enforcement, and the motion failed after a lengthy debate, he said. “We got into a Ferguson discussion,” he said.

“I live in a real city, a larger city, and my city, Kansas City, Kan., and the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department already are moving to ensure we have dash and body cameras,” he said. The bill was “not for the protection of my citizens, (since there are already plans for the body cameras here), I’m concerned about Hooterville and Bug Tussle, Kan. Where a kid is killed under questionable circumstances, I would like to know.”

However, the mandatory body camera provision was opposed by Republican senators who cited its expense and called it an unfunded state mandate.

What remained after Haley’s proposal for mandatory body cameras was removed were provisions that would exempt police dash cameras and body cameras from the open records law, thus closing the videos to the public.

Bill to fill vacant elective positions on municipalities’ boards

At the same time, the bill to fill vacancies on commissions moved ahead.

Senate Bill 10, which would require cities and counties to fill vacancies within 60 days, was amended into Senate Bill 171, the controversial bill to change elections from the spring to the fall, he said. His amendment requires cities or counties to fill elected vacancies within 60 days by appointing a replacement, or else they will have to hold a special election to fill the position.

The provisions for a special election would not apply if the city or county appoints someone to the position within the specified time, or if the city or county had its own provision within its charter for filling a seat within a specified amount of time.

The idea for Senate Bill 10 grew out of the Unified Government Commission’s deadlock on filling the vacancy of the 1st District Commissioner, at large position. After the UG Commission was unable to reach the required six votes for any of the candidates, the position went unfilled for two years. It is now on the primary ballot Tuesday, March 3.

That elections bill passed the Senate, 21-18, with one person not voting, he said. The bill now goes to the House for approval.

Sen. Haley said that Senate Bill 10 had come out of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, but it was too far down on the list to be debated on its own merits as a stand-alone bill.

“In my experience, I sensed it would not be heard,” Sen. Haley said. That meant it would likely have died in the Senate, because of the lack of time to hear it, he added.

“So, after all we had done and worked for to ensure elected vacancies are timely filled, and after all the Elections and Ethics Committee work on the bill, I didn’t want to see that effort die in the bill we crafted,” Sen. Haley said.

He proposed that Senate Bill 10 be amended into Senate Bill 171, the bill changing municipal and school board elections to the fall.

“I was left in an odd position in voting for the amendment to attach Senate Bill 10 to a bill regarding the change of election to the fall that I ultimately did not vote for,” he said.

Sen. Haley said he had been prepared to vote for it, but when it seemed as if it didn’t need bipartisan support, he did not vote for it.

Senate Democrats generally felt that changing elections from the spring to the fall would shift partisan power to nonpartisan elections, which means “Kansas cities, city councils, county commissions, will become more infested with the conservative Republican mindset,” he said.

The original bill would have required cities, counties and school boards to have fall elections at the same time as state and federal candidates. The revised bill changes the city, county and school board elections to odd-numbered years in the fall, while the state and federal elections will be in even-numbered years in the fall.

Sen. Haley carried the amendment on filling vacancies. Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist., spoke on its behalf.

Sen. Haley said he was a little bit frustrated at the process of getting bills passed this year. He also was working on a body camera bill, a medical marijuana bill and a bill to increase job opportunities.

He said he has to really negotiate some agenda items with his conservative colleagues.

“I don’t have much to negotiate with, I’m in a distinct minority,” he said. “It irritates me as a legislator. And I have to expend so much political capital with my colleagues, so much legislative capital I have to use to get this bill through the system, through the legislative process, because one person or a group of persons don’t believe that elected vacancies need to be filled timely, and further, have worked against it,” Sen. Haley said.

And those persons are using his tax dollars to lobby and work against it as well, he added.

The bill had been opposed in hearings by the UG, which said it would cost too much to have a special election to fill a seat, and also that local control was an issue.

Sen. Haley said he did not like to hear statements by other elected officials that the 1st District, at large, commissioner was not needed.

Candidates now running for the position have said at recent political forums that they agree the district was affected by the lack of representation.

“None have discussed remedies, only commonly held deprivation of representation,” Sen. Haley said.

If he had been running for that office of 1st District at large, he would have discussed the budget, how monies that were set aside for each district were spent, and how that money was expended in the district, Sen. Haley said.

Sen. Haley has said that the people in the 1st District at large deserve to have representation, and he believes the vacancy should have been filled in a timely manner. The UG charter, however, did not state a method for breaking a tie, it did not state a time limit for the position to be filled, and it did not say a special election could be held.

If the UG commission feels there is no need for the 1st District at large seat, then they should get together, open up the charter to revisions and eliminate the seat, he said.

“It’s a dangerous precedent, leaving it vacant two years and telling the electorate we don’t need the seat,” Sen. Haley said.

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