Legislation passed by the Senate to increase the training requirements and background credentials to serve as a sheriff in Tennessee was shot down in the House last week.
Currently, anyone can run for sheriff as long as they are 25 years of age by the date of qualifying for the election, are a registered voter in the county in which they are running for the office, and undergo a criminal background check.
If a person has not been certified by passing the peace officer standards and training (POST) commission, they have a certain amount of time in which to do so.
Under the legislation as passed by the Senate, HB1196/SB 1220, only those who have been POST-certified in three of the last 10 years or who have an equivalent amount of federal or state non-POST-certified law enforcement experience in the last 10 years, such as those who have worked for the TBI or FBI, would be qualified to run for Sheriff.
In addition, a candidate would have to pass a psychological examination under the proposed new law.
Rep. Eddie Bass, a Democrat and a retired Giles County Sheriff, said the bill only makes sense since deputies and police officers must be POST-certified.
“All it’s doing is saying we want the people who hold this office to be at least as trained, or as close to as trained, as the people who work for them,” he said. “This body put on requirements to be a road superintendent and for many other county offices across the state. All this is doing is saying that a person who wishes to hold this office should at least know something about this office.”
Critics such as Rep. Dennis Ferguson, however, said the bill would make some qualified people, including military veterans, unable to run for sheriff. “Nobody that is serving in our armed forces today — (Rep.) John Mark Windle, who his gone, who is fighting for our county, one of our members in this House, could not go back to Livingston and run for sheriff after he served our country and fought to protect our land,” the Midtown Democrat said.
Buford Pusser and Alvin York were also mentioned as noteworthy Tennesseans who wouldn’t have qualified to run for county sheriff had the regulations under consideration been in effect in their day.
“We’re setting standards and qualifications to run for sheriff for the state of Tennessee making it harder and harder, and we’re all the time up here saying we want to make it easier for people to run for office. I don’t think we need this. I don’t think this is the route we need to be going,” Ferguson said..
The House adopted a similar bill in 2009 but refused to adopt the Senate version of the bill on a vote 38-48 this year.
The bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate Wednesday. If it refuses to back down from its version of the legislation, each body will appoint members to a conference committee to try to hammer out the differences between to two chambers.