By Greg Bird
A bill being debated in the Kentucky House of Representatives this session could have major impact on how Constables can perform their duties in the state.
House Bill 214, which passed both readings in the House last week, would require all Kentucky Constables to receive the same training and certification as police officers or lose their powers of arrest. A vote on the bill has yet to be held. The measure was posted for passage in the General Orders Friday before the House session closed. If passed by the House, it would move to the Senate. If successful in both chambers it would be forwarded to the Governor for final ratification.
House bill 214, sponsored by Republicans Adam Koenig and David Hale, along with Democrat Joni Jenkins, would amend Kentucky Revised Statutes to remove the ability of Constables to make arrests who have not attained the proper training. Other powers, such as to serve court papers or deal with livestock issues would remain in place.
It would also prevent the officers from using blue lights on their vehicles if they do not have certification.
Jason Rector, President of the Kentucky Constables Association says the organization opposes the bill, warning that it would severely impact law enforcement in Kentucky. Rector said he believes Constables should receive training in order to do their elected duties, but is concerned the current bill does not provide a means for the officers to obtain training.
“It would affect the majority of the Constables in Kentucky,” he said. Most Constables do not receive a salary from their county government, and attending a 21-week police academy would be unaffordable for the officers both in time and cost.
Rector said his group has worked with legislators to prepare a bill that would also require Constables to obtain training, but would also provide funding to establish the program for the officers.
The bill, which has drawn interest from legislators, will not be presented this session, but Rector hopes it will be available next year.
The new bill would require Constables to receive 80-hours of specialized training in their first year in office, and an additional 40 hours every subsequent year. The training would be funded through citations issued and papers served by Constables, so it would not require any additional funding from the state.
“It would be like the criminals would be providing the Constables’ training,” Rector said.
Representative Koenig has tried before to limit powers for Constables. Last year he introduced a similar bill that would eliminate the arrest powers of constables, effectively removing their “peace officer” status and limiting them to the ability to serve court papers and deal with livestock. In fact, the Representative has been filing similar bills for several years.
Those bills did not pass.
Koenig had also made previous attempts to introduce a Constitutional Amendment eliminating the Constable position altogether, but those had failed to gain any traction in the Legislature.
The position of Constable was established in 1850 under the Kentucky Constitution, but unlike police officers, Constables are not required to have state-approved certification and training to hold the position. The only requirements for being a Constable are living in the District for at least one year prior to the election and being 24-years old or older.
Under current law Constables have the same powers as police to make arrests.
Kentucky is one of only 17 states that elect constables, and only 16 others maintain the position but appoint rather than elect. The remaining states have abolished the position outright.
In Kentucky most Constables do not receive a salary from the Fiscal Courts in the counties they serve, but rather are paid through fees from serving paperwork for the Court.
McCreary County is one of the few counties to afford the elected officials an annual salary.
According to the current salary schedule McCreary County Constables are paid an annual salary of $7,092. With added benefits, such as retirement, insurance and workman’s comp, the annual cost to the County is $17,310 per officer – or about $69,000 in total.