On Thursday, the Alabama Senate voted in favor of legislation that would mandate that in the event of a vacancy in the office of sheriff that the next highest-ranking member of that department would assume the sheriff’s responsibilities until the governor can appoint a replacement.
House Bill 276 (HB276) is sponsored by State Representative Ron Bolton. The legislation was carried in the Senate by Sen. Steve Livingston.
“This changes an 1874 rule that the coroner would assume those duties,” Livingston told the Senate.
Bolton explained that in the event of a vacancy in the sheriff’s office, the highest-ranking member of that department would take control of the department. This could be because of the death of the sheriff, the sheriff has been charged with a crime, or the sheriff has resigned or retired.
Bolton said, “They will automatically take control of that office until the governor makes the appointment.”
Bolton said that he has spoken with the sheriffs and that the Alabama Sheriffs Association helped to draft the bill.
Rep. John Rogers asked, “What if the highest-ranking deputy has some charges pending against him?”
Bolton said, “He would be removed himself. It would go to the next-ranking deputy.”
Rep. Juandalynn Givan asked, “Did you talk to the sheriffs about this, and specifically, did you talk with Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway about this?”
Bolton said, “I did. I taught Sheriff Pettway in the academy 27 years ago. The Sheriffs Association helped draft the bill, and I spoke with Sheriff Pettway about this when he is in town.
Bolton said that the law establishing that the coroner assumes the powers of a sheriff in the event of a vacancy dates back to 1852. “It has been amended a number of times, but it has never been changed in terms of succession,” Bolton said.
According to the synopsis, “Under existing law, when the office of the sheriff of a county is vacant or in certain other circumstances when existing law has provided that it is not appropriate for the sheriff to serve, the county coroner discharges the duties of the sheriff. This bill would provide that when the office of sheriff is vacant or when certain other circumstances exist, the highest ranking deputy sheriff in the county would serve as acting sheriff.”
HB276 passed the Senate 33 to 0. It passed the House of Representatives 104 to 0 last week. It now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey for her consideration.
Wednesday was day 17 of the 2023 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.
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