Highway Patrol seeks title fee hike to hire more troopers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are being asked to approve a $7.50 increase in vehicle title fees to pay for 75 additional Kansas Highway Patrol troopers and fix a situation in which more than one-third of all counties in the state have no patrol presence.

Col. Mark Bruce, the Highway Patrol’s superintendent, sent a letter to state lawmakers on New Year’s Eve asking them to support the increase. Vehicle titles have cost $10 since 2003, The Wichita Eagle reported.

“In 2006, the KHP was staffed with 501 troopers. That number has decreased to 419,” the letter said. “The overall effectiveness of the Patrol in performing our mission and our ability to support the local law enforcement community in Kansas has been negatively impacted.”

As of November, 36 counties were without a dedicated trooper, 29 were served by one trooper and the other 40 had at least two.

Patrol spokesman Lt. Adam Winters said many troopers have retired in recent years and the agency has had trouble recruiting and retaining replacements. Twenty new troopers recently graduated from the patrol’s academy, but most were sent to more populous areas.

On Friday, Winters announced a Highway Patrol survey that asks the public to weigh in on whether troopers should be allowed to have certain types of tattoos.

The current policy automatically disqualifies candidates from the application process if they have any offensive tattoos or ones that are visible while in uniform.

“The Kansas Highway Patrol is short in manpower statewide,” Winters wrote in a news release. “In addressing this shortage, the agency is exploring ways of attracting more applicants for its trooper and other vacant positions.”

Bruce’s letter noted that Gov. Sam Brownback has publicly expressed support for increasing the Highway Patrol’s numbers. Brownback’s office did not immediately comment when asked whether the governor supported the proposed fee increase.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said he likely would support the patrol’s request or a similar proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the request deserves serious consideration, but he also criticized Brownback’s income tax cuts.

The state faces a combined shortfall of about $190 million for the current and next fiscal year. Though Brownback has said he won’t pursue tax increases this year to fill the gap, Hensley called the proposed fee a tax increase in disguise.

The Kansas Department of Corrections also is having a hard time retaining prison guards, which lawmakers in both parties blame on uncompetitive pay.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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