UPDATED: Suellentrop gives up leadership responsibilities

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(Updated to include statement)

Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop gave up many of his responsibilities in leadership Wednesday, a day after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and fleeing a law enforcement officer.

Suellentrop, 69, returned to the Capitol Wednesday amid a swirl of speculation after the Kansas Highway Patrol said he was stopped while heading the wrong way on Interstate 70 near downtown Topeka.

A judge later ordered Suellentrop’s release, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to support his arrest. It was not clear if the case would be refiled.

The Wichita lawmaker attended the Senate Republican caucus meeting where he didn’t preside as senators discussed bills to be debated later Wednesday afternoon. The majority leader typically runs the meeting.

After the meeting, Suellentrop released a short statement announcing that his leadership duties were being 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 left the caucus meeting through a throng of reporters holding microphones into his face as he referred them to his prepared comments.

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 will carry on with some of his responsibilities that are set in statute, such as serving on the Legislative Coordinating Council.

He will hand over other responsibilities, such as setting the Senate agenda to Alley.

Senate President Ty Masterson praised Suellentrop for his “prudent decision.”

“It demonstrates respect for his colleagues and the Senate as an institution, as it will allow us to proceed forward without distraction nor delay as he handles the matters impacting him at the present time,” Masterson said in a statement.

Suellentrop was arrested early Tuesday morning and booked in the Shawnee County Jail on suspicion of drunk driving just before 4 a.m.

He also had been charged with fleeing a law enforcement officer, speeding and improper crossover on a divided highway, records show.

The Capitol Police made the arrest on Interstate 70 near downtown Topeka. His vehicle was reported to be headed eastbound in the westbound lanes.

The officer attempted to stop Suellentrop’s white sport utility vehicle, but it reportedly continued on. A short pursuit followed. The vehicle came to a stop when Suellentrop was arrested.

The Kansas Highway Patrol has not made the incident report public. The general counsel for the agency said the report is still being completed and would not be made public until or before March 26.

The case has been referred to the Shawnee County district attorney. It was not clear whether the Shawnee County prosecutor plans to refile the case.