(Updated to add statement from Senate leadership)
Shawnee County prosecutors have charged Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop in connection with his arrest for reportedly driving under the influence and fleeing police.
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced late Friday afternoon that Suellentrop had been charged with driving under the influence, attempting to elude police, reckless driving, speeding and driving the wrong direction on a divided highway.
Eluding police is a felony, while the DUI and reckless driving charges are misdemeanors.
The felony charge presents the most serious threat to Suellentrop’s political career, which started in 2009 as a member of the Kansas House.
The state Constitution requires a legislator to be a “qualified elector.”
If Suellentrop is convicted of a felony, he would lose his right to vote and would no longer be a qualified elector.
Suellentrop, 69, was arrested in the early morning hours of March 16 when police received multiple calls in reference to a white sport utility vehicle driving the wrong direction on Interstate 470 near the Burlingame Road exit in Topeka.
Law enforcement located the vehicle on I-70 near the Gage exit as the vehicle was traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes.
Law enforcement attempted to initiate a traffic stop but the vehicle continued eastbound.
Due to safety concerns for oncoming traffic, a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper initiated a tactical vehicle intervention between the Third and Eighth street exits.
Suellentop – the sole occupant of the vehicle – was then taken into custody.
Suellentrop was subsequently released without bond later that morning when the court found the arrest report was missing critical information.
Suellentrop turned himself in at the Shawnee County Department of Corrections, just before 5 p.m. Friday.
His bond has been set at $5,000. No future court hearings have been scheduled.
After his arrest, Suellentrop later announced that some of his leadership duties were turned over to Assistant Majority Leader Larry Alley of Winfield until the legal issues are resolved.
“I regret that this incident has caused a distraction for my colleagues and the Senate staff and, most importantly, from the important issues we are debating on behalf of the people of Kansas,” Suellentrop said in a prepared statement.
“It is essential that Senate leadership, our caucus, and the entire Senate be able to successfully complete the serious work that remains over the next few weeks.”
Suellentrop has still been active in the Legislature, most recently on Thursday night where sources say he was unsucessfully lobbying against legislation sought by Evergy.
Senate leader – President Ty Masterson and Vice President Rick Wilborn – issued an open-ended statement leaving it unclear how the chamber moves forward.
“Last week, Sen. Suellentrop took the prudent step of transferring the bulk of his duties to our assistant majority leader.
“Over the past 10 days, the Senate has proceeded successfully with the people’s business and that will continue for the few remaining days of this year’s session.
“Upon learning of these formal charges, we have begun reaching out to other members of the Republican caucus about how to proceed most effectively moving forward.”
As majority leader, Sullentrop is responsible for setting the agenda in the Senate and is the gatekeeper of bills heard in the chamber.
The position wields considerable influence over what bills ultimately make it through the legislative process and are sent to the governor.
A Senate spokesman said Suellentrop would carry on with some of his responsibilities that are set in statute, such as serving on the Legislative Coordinating Council.