California lawmakers are proposing to overturn a requirement that sheriff candidates have a law enforcement background. If passed, Senate Bill 271 would allow anyone to run for sheriff, including police reform advocates and anti-police activists.

“Sheriff is one of the most powerful elected offices,” said state Senator Scott Wiener, who sponsored the bill, which was introduced Thursday. “For 139 years, from 1850 to 1989, anyone could run for sheriff and the people could select who they wanted to hold this very powerful and impactful position.”

But, Wiener noted, this changed after prisoner rights advocate Michael Hennessey was elected sheriff of San Francisco County in 1979. After that election, the California State Sheriffs’ Association lobbied for a law requiring all sheriff candidates to have certification from the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training or recent salaried law enforcement experience. These requirements went into effect in 1989. 

“What that has done over the last 30 plus years is dramatically reduce accountability for sheriffs because so few people, only a tiny number of people, are eligible to run,” Wiener told The Appeal: Political Report.