Democrat lawmakers say they’re opposed to moving KHP superintendent under AG’s control
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 11:10 AM EST
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – A Democrat lawmaker says she is opposed to a Republican proposal to move control of the Kansas Highway Patrol from the governor’s office to the state attorney general’s office.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, told 13 NEWS on Friday that the Republican proposal is “a bad idea.”
Republican lawmakers this week discussed moving the KHP to the jurisdiction of the Kansas attorney general’s office.
Ballard said the Republicans’ plan “sounds like a power grab.”
The current arrangement, in which the KHP is under the authority of the governor’s office, is “working fine now,” Ballard said.
The Kansas Highway Patrol has been under the governor’s jurisdiction for at least the past 30 years, Ballard said.
“It’s working effectively where it is,” Ballard said, “so why would you change something that’s working already?”
Ballard noted that among the KHP’s responsibilities is providing security for the governor.
She said the attorney general’s office “has no business” running the highway patrol.
Republican Kris Kobach is the incoming Kansas attorney general following his narrow election to that office in November.
In 2018, Kobach was defeated in the Kansas gubernatorial race by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who was re-elected to her second term in office in November.
Ballard said “it seems that whenever Kobach takes over another responsibility” he wants to increase the power of his office.
She noted that when Kobach served as the Kansas secretary of state from 2011 to 2019, “he wanted power to prosecute, and secretary of states don’t do that. And now he’s going to the attorney general’s office and he’s trying to gain more power” by adding the highway patrol to his duties.
The Kansas Highway Patrol is in the domain of the governor’s office, Ballard added.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Ballard said. “I would leave it where it is. It’s working effectively.”
Ballard added, “It’s not necessary. We don’t need it and I think it’s just an extra move to grab power.”
She added that she couldn’t see how the plan to move the KHP under the attorney general’s office can be justified.
“This was not an issue for other AGs,” she said.
The proposal to move the Kansas Highway Patrol to the attorney general’s supervision, Ballard said, is “another move to limit” the governor’s power.
Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka, also said he was opposed to the Republicans proposal.
“I’m definitely not for it,” Alcala said. ”The last thing I want is Kris Kobach controlling our Kansas Highway Patrol.”
Sen. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, told 13 NEWS this past week that he was concerned about the shrinking class size of KHP training school graduates.
He said only five people graduated from the Salina-based academy on Dec. 14. Meanwhile, he said, six KHP troopers resigned or retired in the previous 15 days.
Claeys, who was Kobach’s campaign manager for the 2022 election, said the Kansas Highway Patrol’s training school had record numbers of graduates from 2016 to 2019, but the numbers have fallen off since then. He said each six-month class should be producing 40 to 50 graduates.
He said that low number of individuals graduating from the most recent KHP training class is reason to make a change in the way the leadership is selected.
Claeys noted that Kelly has been unwilling to replace current Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Herman Jones, who previously served as the Shawnee County sheriff.
The 2023 Kansas legislative session is set to begin on Jan. 9.
Should the Legislature vote to move the KHP superintendent to the authority of the attorney general and Kelly vetoes the bill, Claeys said, Republicans have enough votes to override the veto.
“We currently have supermajorities,” Claeys told 13 NEWS. “I wish this weren’t partisan. It doesn’t need to be. I would be the happiest person in the Statehouse if Laura Kelly would simply act on this and do something about the disaster that’s happening at the Kansas Highway Patrol.
“I would hope that Democrats would come on board with doing something about this problem.”
Sean McCauley, attorney for the Kansas State Troopers Association, told 13 NEWS on Thursday the organization agreed with Claeys “that there is much-needed change at the highest levels of the Kansas Highway Patrol” and called on Kelly “to intervene and make those necessary changes herself. But if she fails to take such necessary action, the KSTA will carefully review any option to effectuate change, whether that is removing the appointment from the Governor or other possible legislative remedies.”
In a statement provided to 13 NEWS, Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Mitch Clark said recruitment of new officers is posing a challenge for law enforcement agencies throughout the nation.
“Law enforcement agencies across the country are struggling with recruitment,” Clark said, “and the issues that the Kansas Highway Patrol is facing are not unique. KHP will continue to do everything we can to improve recruitment while keeping Kansans safe.”
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