Game meat, pregnant women in jail, Guard insurance, theft limits all pass

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – From game meat to the treatment of pregnant women in prison to felony theft threshholds, the state House and Senate continued to churn out action Wednesday.

The Kentucky House of Representatives passed legislation today aimed at expanding eligibility for game meat donations. House Bill 209, sponsored by Representative Jonathan Dixon, R-Henderson, would allow the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agency, the Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to receive and donate game meat for the purpose of free meal distributions to those in need.

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“Our laws already allow game meat donation to non-profits so they can redistribute meat to families in need,” Dixon said. “This bill simply allows the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agency, the Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to take part in efforts to fight hunger. In addition, many of our extension agencies offer cooking classes and do tremendous work in educating needy families about ways they can make cost-effective healthy meals at home. It’s important we give these entities the support they need in that effort.”

The legislation is supported by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who testified in support of HB 209 when it passed the House Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee.

“I am incredibly grateful to my friend Representative Dixon for fighting for this legislation, which solves a problem identified as a result of our Kentucky Hunger Initiative,” Commissioner Quarles said. “The additional protections provided by this bill will allow the good people of Extension to continue educating clients at food banks about how to prepare donated wild game. I also want to thank Representative Samara Heavrin who carried this bill last year before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the legislative session. I hope that we get just as much bipartisan support in the Senate as we did in the House.”

The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 84 to establish appropriate standards of care for pregnant incarcerated people. The bill would end solitary confinement for pregnant people, provide six weeks of post-partum care, and connect people with a social worker to determine childcare and develop reunification and substance-use treatment plans. The bill also allows meaningful access to community-based substance use disorder treatment so incarcerated people can continue to bond with their child during treatment. Last, Senate Bill 84 will require the state to collect data on all Kentuckians in solitary confinement so officials and advocacy groups can fully understand the impact this extreme punishment has on people.

The lives of pregnant incarcerated people are often plagued by poverty, substance use disorder, histories of trauma and abuse, and limited access to healthcare. Currently, there are no systems in place to track outcomes for these Kentuckians and understand their needs. Documenting pregnancies and pregnancy outcomes is a matter of health equity that will reduce maternal health disparities.

Senator Julie Raque Adams, the primary sponsor of SB 84, said “having a dignified birthing experience is not special treatment; it is simply humane treatment. Many incarcerated people suffer from substance use disorder, and adding an infant makes the situation about more than crime and punishment. These are people with health problems, and we need to be part of the solution. We need to be thoughtful about how we approach corrections policies in the commonwealth.”

“Giving birth is challenging under any circumstances,” said Jackie McGranahan, policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky. “With legislation like Dignity Bill 2, we can give pregnant people the chance to receive the care they need so they can have safe, healthy pregnancies and bond with their children. This bill is the right thing to do, and it will strengthen communities and help our economy. We applaud the Senate for passing this important legislation.”

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

To hear from Senator Adams and a Kentuckian who experienced pregnancy while incarcerated, watch this video.

Also, HB 126 passed the full House in bipartisan fashion with 63 yeas and 24 nays.  It now heads to the Senate. Currently, theft of property worth more than $500 is a felony, which is a lower threshold than 45 other states and has not been indexed for inflation in more than a decade. The bill would move threshold to $1,000; the state currently has some amounts as low as $100 for the offense to be a felony.

“The Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition applauds Chairman Massey for his leadership,” said Mandy Simpson, Director of Public Policy for the Metro United Way of Kentucky on behalf of the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition.

Kentucky’s felony theft threshold has failed to keep pace with inflation and modernization of the criminal legal system, remaining unchanged for more than a decade.

“Texas has a threshold that is five times larger than ours.  For even more context, Georgia and Alabama’s thresholds stand at $1,500, with Tennessee’s at $1,000. Kentucky’s current system does not provide proportionate consequences for community members, especially as we work to address high incarceration rates and corrections costs impacting the wellbeing of Kentucky children and families.

Kentucky ranks third nationally for children who experience parental incarceration. The Commonwealth is imposing lifechanging consequences on parents and children for what other states consider petty theft.  Our coalition urges the full House to approve HB 126.”

The House of Representatives passed legislation that would help more service members learn about a new benefit through involvement of the Adjutant General, who would provide opportunities for Kentucky National Guard members to enroll in and upgrade life insurance, receive program briefings during trainings and drills, among other provisions.

House Bill 73 passed on the House floor 95-1. During the 2020 session, House Bill 315, a similar bill was passed in the House, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t enough time to pass the bill into a law.

“This bill allows the capability of the association to provide this benefit opportunity to those who most warrant and deserve it,” Tate said. “This bill is a priority bill for the department of military affairs and the Kentucky National Guard.”

The legislation is now headed to the Senate Floor where it will be considered for passage in the upcoming days of the 2021 Regular Session. Details of the measure can be viewed at legislature.ky.gov .