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Senate majority leader’s arrest, release brings attention to clause in KS Constitution

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 5:40 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The early-Tuesday-morning arrest and release of Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop has brought attention to a clause in the state’s constitution that says during the legislative session, lawmakers cannot be arrested unless they commit treason, a felony, or breach of the peace. With that clause comes questions about Suellentrop’s case and whether he could face charges related to the DUI arrest.

Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican, was back on the Senate floor Wednesday. On Thursday, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said that releasing Suellentrop was the right call since the affidavit was missing a few key points the judge needed to find probable cause to hold him at the Shawnee County Jail.

“The affidavit that the judge did, it was missing one or more of the elements that are required, and so the court did what the court was supposed to do,” Kagay said. “You know, the judge followed the law, and that’s the role of the judge.”

When it comes to the clause in the Kansas Constitution pertaining to limits on arresting lawmakers during the legislative session, University of Kansas Political Science Professor Dr. Burdett Loomis said clauses like that are common.

“This clause is pulled directly from the U.S. Constitiuion,” he said.

But the intention behind such clauses is to make sure lawmakers can be at the Statehouse to speak freely and vote, not to let them off the hook entirely for committing a crime.

“If you commit a felony, you’re not protected,” Dr. Loomis said. “Many members of Congress and many state legislators have been charged with felonies over the years.”

Currently, the DA’s office in Shawnee County is waiting for the Kansas Highway Patrol to finish and turn over its investigation. Kagay said if it shows Suellentrop committed a crime, his position at the Statehouse won’t keep him from filing charges.

“I don’t really care what somebody’s background is, who they are, where they come from, what they believe,” he said. “None of those factors come into play.”

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