September 2, 2014

House Committee hears of issues facing state sheriffs (AUDIO)

Several of the state’s sheriffs have told a state House committee about issues they face that they hope will get some legislative attention. That has included sheriff’s qualifications, sheriff’s salaries and the per diem paid to counties by the state for each state prisoner they hold in their jails.

Representative Don Ruzicka (R-Mount Vernon)

Missouri Sheriff’s Association executive director Mick Covington says first, though, there has been a disconnect between lawmakers and sheriffs that must be bridged.

“Our core statement that I think we’d like everyone to walk away with is, ‘A sheriff is a sheriff is a sheriff.’ They all do the same job. Classification has nothing to do with it. A state law is a state law across the state, whether it’s in a first-class county, second-class county or third-class county.”

Covington says the number of mandated services that a sheriff and his or her department must perform continues to grow, and he says that is part of that disconnect…

AUDIO:  Mick Covington, 2:55

Covington says he believes the issues that would require more funding can be addressed even if the Republican majority sticks to its goal of not raising taxes.

“I believe there are some remedies there that the legislators can look at in working with the sheriffs to realign, re-shift, maneuver, consolidate and leverage a lot of assets and current practices that are in place and improve the situation greatly, and take some of the burden off of the local taxpayer.”

Committee chairman, Representative Don Ruzicka (R-Mount Vernon) says when the committee meets again it will look at fees that are currently collected and where funding is going.

“Maybe we can look at shifting, changing, redirecting and maybe a new fee … I’m not going to say is unnecessary, but it could be a possibility because usually (the legislature) steps up when it’s law enforcement.”

The prisoner per diem issue has been brought to the legislature for years, and there have been increases in recent years but it is not at the level it is supposed to be at according to statute. Covington says it must be addressed.

“It is coming to the breaking point for counties. Counties can no longer afford … neither can the state … to continue with the business plan that’s currently in place and the relationship between the county jail and the state prisoners.”

Covington says another issue raised in the hearings was requiring that an individual have a peace officer licence to run for sheriff.

He says all sheriffs currently in office have one, but in the last election cycle, “two individuals were elected that did not have licenses to be peace officers and after they were elected they had to go to an academy while they were trying to fill the duties in the office of sheriff, to get their license.”

Committee Chairman Don Ruzicka says the group will meet again in a few weeks and begin trying to create legislation.

“I’m just not gonna hear their concerns and complaints and write a report and that be the end of it. I actually want to improve the office of sheriff. I want to help them perform their duties better.”