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Bill bars felon sheriff hopefuls

Thu., Feb. 14, 2008

BOISE – Idaho currently allows felons to run for sheriff and serve – even though sheriffs are the chief law enforcement officers for their counties and none of their deputies can be felons.

The Idaho Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to change that, voting 33-0 in favor of SB 1356.

“Once in a while there’s a bill that just makes good common sense, and I believe this is one,” said Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

Mike Kane, lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriffs Association, said, “The sheriffs, for a long time, have been trying to upgrade their standards.”

He said he’s found no record of a felon running for or serving as sheriff, but current law would permit it. In recent years, a couple of Idaho sheriffs have been prosecuted on felony charges but not convicted.

The bill wouldn’t require a sheriff who’d been convicted of a felony to be booted from office. Only voters could do that, through a recall election. But if a sheriff were to go to prison, he or she wouldn’t be able to serve in office and the governor could appoint a replacement, Kane said.

In Washington, state law would allow a convicted felon to be elected sheriff.

The requirements for elected officials, such as sheriffs, are not the same as for peace officers, such as a police chiefs, who can’t have felony convictions, said Doug Blair, deputy director of operations for the Criminal Justice Training Commission and manager of Washington peace officer certification. “I can’t find any law that says a sheriff must meet the requirements to be a certified police officer,” he said.

Elected sheriffs must complete basic law enforcement training, but they can’t be required to take polygraph tests or psychological exams, Blair said.

The Idaho bill also requires some law enforcement training for new sheriffs who aren’t already certified by the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training academy. POST offers a tutorial on CD for new sheriffs, who also would be required to attend a training course sponsored by the Idaho Sheriffs Association.

Currently, no training is required of Idaho sheriffs.

The bill, which now moves to the House, would disqualify any felon’s name from appearing on the election ballot for sheriff.

Kane said he has not heard any opposition to the measure. “People are scratching their heads, going, ‘Well, you mean to tell me a sheriff can be a felon?’ ” he said. “I’m not getting any resistance from anybody at all.”

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