Call to Order and Roll Call
Thesecond meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government was held on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, at 10:00 AM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Steve Riggs, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Representative Steve Riggs, Co-Chair; Senator Dan "Malano" Seum; Representatives Julie Raque Adams, Ron Crimm, Mike Denham, Richard Henderson, Brent Housman, Adam Koenig, Stan Lee, Tom McKee, Michael Meredith, David Osborne, Jody Richards, Arnold Simpson, Rita Smart, and Jim Wayne.
Guests: Commissioner Jerry Lunsford and State Fire Marshal William Swope, Department of Housing, Buildings, and Construction; Peter Irvine, Public Protection Cabinet; Mason County Attorney John Estill, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, and Bill Patrick, Kentucky County Attorneys’ Association; Jeff Dean, Pendleton County Attorney; Bryan Dean; Phillip Hedrick, Boyd County Attorney; Joe Taylor, Grant County Attorney; Shelley Hampton, Kentucky Association of Counties; J.D. Chaney and Tony Goetz, Kentucky League of Cities; Jim Thompson, Education and Workforce Development Cabinet; Dan Walton, Labor Cabinet; and Mike Kurtsinger, Kentucky Firefighters Association.
Approval of Minutes
Upon the motion of Representative Denham, seconded by Representative Crimm, the minutes of the June 21, 2011 meeting were approved by voice vote.
Consideration of Referred Administrative Regulation
The committee considered referred Administrative Regulation 815 KAR 10:070 & E, which establishes the requirements and fees for registration of consumer firework retailers and locations within the Commonwealth. Representative Riggs stated that a written report of the review will be submitted to the LRC.
Discussion of the Office, Duties, and Challenges of County Attorneys
John Estill, Mason County Attorney and President of the Kentucky County Attorneys’ Association, stated that in 1975 the county attorney became part of the “Unified Prosecutorial System.” County and Commonwealth’s Attorneys were unified for administration under the Prosecutors Advisory Council.
To be eligible for the position of county attorney, the candidate must be at least 24 years old, a citizen of Kentucky, a resident of the state for two years, and a resident of the county one year before the election. The candidate also must be a licensed, practicing attorney for two years before the election.
The Constitutional office of county attorney was established in 1850. The office serves state government in a prosecutorial role, and serves fiscal court and other county agencies as a legal advisor. The duties of county attorney as part of the Unified Prosecutorial System include: prosecution of all violations of criminal law within the jurisdiction of district court including (misdemeanors and felonies); and prosecutorial jurisdiction over juvenile issues (criminal acts, transfer of certain cases to adult status, truancy, dependency, neglect, abuse, and emergency custody orders). Mike O’Connell, Jefferson County Attorney, noted that the county attorney’s office sent letters to parents regarding truancy and there was a 75 percent to 80 percent reduction in truancy due to those letters.
Mr. Estill explained that additional prosecutorial duties of the county attorney include working with the court and victims in emergency protection order (EPO) cases pursuant to Amanda’s law. Mr. O’Connell stated that the enforcement of Amanda’s Law has been difficult because it was not funded. Mr. Estill stated that the office of county attorney also handles extraditions; assists in disability/guardianship cases; and handles mental health commitments (obtaining emergency examination and 72 hours commitment and long term commitment). Mr. O’Connell mentioned that the county attorney also enforces penalties in cases of the elderly being exploited.
Regarding crime in Kentucky, Mr. Estill stated that crime rates and the types of cases substantially impact both case and work load of county attorneys. DUI arrests are labor intensive. In 2010, the following statistics were reported: 29,917 persons were arrested for DUI. The county attorney’s office is seeing big results from the recent, stricter DUI legislation; 19,250 arrests were made from petitions filed seeking domestic protective orders that resulted in related prosecutions; juvenile crime arrests were 49,167; and 61,413 persons were arrested for drug violations.
County attorneys perform the following duties to county government: attend the fiscal court or consolidated local government; conduct all business touching the rights and interests of the county; institute, defend and conduct all civil actions in which the county is interested before the courts of the Commonwealth (fiscal court and other officers and employees); give legal advice to fiscal court; give legal advice to the several county officers in all matters concerning county business within their jurisdiction; and oppose all unjust or illegally presented claims.
Other non-prosecutorial duties of county attorneys include: representing special and taxing districts; election duties (duty to advise, assist and investigate); filing suits for autopsy or participating in inquest; investigating entertainment permits; and assisting the Transportation Cabinet. The county attorney is advisory and counsel to: fiscal court; public works; special districts; county clerk; PVA; jailer; treasurer; county agencies; and Board of Elections. Some county attorneys take on additional responsibilities, which supplements funding for operation of offices, such as bad check collection, recovering delinquent property taxes, and collecting child support payments for parents.
In response to a question from Representative Simpson, Mr. Estill said county attorneys have the responsibility for the oversight of boards of special districts in an advisory role only, but do not have the personnel to attend every district’s board meeting.
In response to another question from Representative Simpson, Mr. Estill said county attorneys typically only advise the smaller boards.
In response to a question from Senator Seum, Mr. Estill said the new e-warrant system takes longer to input warrants but the service of warrants is better.
In response to another question from Senator Seum, Mr. O’Connell said outstanding warrants are put in a purged docket but many are dismissed or thrown out. Noone is responsible for tracking outstanding warrants prior to e-warrants. Senator Seum commented that he was not happy with the outstanding warrant process.
In response to a question from Representative Smart, Mr. Estill said each county attorney has at least one assistant but the number depends upon the size of the county.
In response to a question from Representative Riggs, Mr. Estill said it is a challenge to get funding for county attorneys in counties that are growing.
In response to a question from Representative Crimm, Mr. O’Connell said EPOs are meaningless in the few situations where people do not abide by them. In most cases the EPO will get the attention of the person and that person will abide by it.
In response to a question from Representative Richards, Mr. Estill replied that special districts are supposed to file budgets. Representative Richards commented that there is not enough oversight of special districts.
Representative Richards also stated that there is a big problem with copper being stolen. Mr. O’Donnell said the stealing of copper is rampant and has been hard to get a handle on. Mr. Estill pointed out that recycling centers need to be the focus because that is where the thieves are taking the copper.
Representative Denham commented that the problem with 2011 HB 242, relating to the purchase of metals by recyclers to require signed proof of ownership, which he sponsored, is that the thieves are staying ahead of the legislation.
In response to a question from Representative Lee, Mr. Estill said percentages are not kept on how many county attorneys have a private practice. His office is part-time.
In response to a question from Representative Denham, Mr. Estill said there have been no complaints about 2011 HB 463 relating to omnibus revisions to the state’s criminal justice system. The county attorneys are taking the “wait and see” approach. Mr. O’Connell added that it is too early to tell what effects it will have.
Representative Riggs told Mr. Estill and Mr. O’Connell to keep the committee informed.
Representative Riggs asked that the committee have a moment of silence for former Representative John Adams who had recently passed away.
Representative Riggs announced that the committee would meet in September.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:50 a.m.