By RONNIE ELLIS
Glasgow Daily Times
A state Senate committee revised a proposed constitutional amendment which would have eliminated the office of constable Wednesday, choosing instead to offer a statute to allow local governments to define constables’ duties through ordinance.
Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, had proposed the amendment to abolish the office but told the State and Local Government Committee that a compromise had been reached with the support of the Kentucky Association of Counties, county judge/executives, magistrates and other groups.
The bill would allow local governments to define by ordinance the specific duties of constables in their jurisdictions but they could not eliminate all duties in order to create a “shell office.” The legislation is permissive, she said, meaning local governments could choose to leave constables’ duties as they are if they wish.
Several organizations in the past, including some of the groups which agreed to the compromise offered by Denton on Wednesday, have called for the elimination of the constitutional office which was established in the 1891 state constitution. Last fall, a Jefferson County constable shot an alleged shoplifter in a Walmart parking lot, claiming she ran over his foot with her vehicle trying to escape. The constable faces charges in the case.
Garrard County Judge/Executive John Wilson who is President of KACo testified in support of the bill. He told of complaints in his county about a constable who purchased a radar gun and with no training was citing motorists and later handcuffed a neighbor who had complained about his leaving his emergency lights on at night. But Wilson said he had no authority to respond to complaints from constituents about constables.
“The office currently answers to no one,” Wilson said. “Accountability is non-existent for the revenues they collect.”
Committee Chair Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he’d never received a complaint about any constable in Scott County but acknowledged there were “isolated cases” of abuses by untrained constables.
Jason Rector, President of the Kentucky Constables Association, also acknowledged some problems.
“I won’t deny there are issues with constables,” Rector said. “I get calls daily. But there is value to the position.”
Rector wants the legislature to require constables to attend at least 40 hours of training within one year of election.
“That way we can at least get constables an introduction to law enforcement,” Rector said.
Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, said the office was created at a time when magistrates — members of Fiscal Court — had judicial powers in their individual districts and the office of constable served as their law enforcement agent. But those days are gone with the passage of the Judicial Reform in the 1970s.
Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, noted the state constitution includes many provisions which are irrelevant or troublesome in the modern era. Specifically he pointed to Section 33 which is at the heart of litigation over the constitutionality of the state legislative re-districting plan. Stivers said many sections of the constitution are “antiquated and outdated.”
“At some point in time, we’re going to have to take a serious look as a legislature at changing many sections of our constitution and bring it up to date,” Stivers said.
The committee passed the bill to the full Senate by a 7-1 vote.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort