Prairie Village staff, council express concerns with partisan election, gun bills

SB 45 would allow the concealed carry of a firearm without a permit.
SB 45 would allow the concealed carry of a firearm without a permit.

City councilors and staff on Monday expressed concern with a number of bills making their way through the state legislature that would have an impact in Prairie Village.

Nolan Sunderman, Prairie Village’s Assistant to the City Administrator, made a presentation during Monday’s city council meeting giving a status update on a number of bills that would require changes to existing laws and practices in Prairie Village.

Among them was SB 171, a bill that would require city and school board elections to be moved to the fall and require them to become partisan. Proponents of the bill say it would increase voter turnout by aligning local elections with big national elections that tend to attract more people to the polls. But a large number of municipalities and other organizations have voiced concern that the bill would increase the rancor in city governing bodies.

Mayor Laura Wassmer, who was among a group of Prairie Village officials to make their way to Topeka for a hearing on the bill, encouraged other councilors who opposed the proposal to reach out to legislators and constituents to make their voices heard.

“I think we need a groundswell of people coming forward and letting their concerns be known. We need to act fast if we want to protect what we have and what I think makes municipal government work — we are non partisan so we focus on the issues.”

The city submitted written testimony at a hearing on the bill, but did not have a chance to make spoken remarks. Sunderman noted that proponents of the bill were granted the first 50 minutes of the hearing to testify in support of the measure while just two opponents were able to testify in the closing minutes.

“We believe the room was packed with opponents of the bill,” Sunderman said.

Police Chief Wes Jordan also updated the council on two gun bills, SB 45 and SB 65, which would remove the requirements for having a permit for individuals who wanted to carry a concealed weapon and would allow public employees to carry a weapon while on duty. Jordan said the prospect of having non-police officers carrying weapons around city hall appeared to pose significant legal liabilities, with the city potentially at risk for legal action should an accident with a gun take place on city property or while an employee was on duty.

“I cannot remember a time we’ve needed to be this involved on the city level,” Jordan said of the current legislative session.

Jordan did, however, voice support for the Gun Violence Restraining Order legislation introduced by Mission Hills Rep. Barbara Bollier, calling it a common sense measure that would be of particular help in keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who pose a threat to themselves.

“But I don’t know if this bill will even get a hearing,” he said.

Wassmer said she had been disappointed by the amount of city staff time necessary to track the various bills.

“The unfortunate part of all these bills is you can see the amount of time our staff is having to spend on these, which is taking them away from other duties,” she said.