Legislature approves two justice reform measures, draws praise from group

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Two criminal justice reform measures were approved by the Legislature Tuesday, drawing praise from a reform group.

The Legislature approved HB 126, sponsored by Chairman C. Ed Massey, which raises Kentucky’s felony theft threshold to the national median of states at $1,000.

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The bill would also increase the threshold for several fraud-related crimes to $1,000, some of which currently have amounts as low as $100 for the offense to be a felony. HB 126 now heads to the Governor’s desk.

Kentucky’s felony theft threshold has failed to keep pace with inflation and modernization of the criminal legal system, remaining unchanged since 2009.

“This is an important step that reform advocates have been working on for many years,” said Kate Shanks, vice president of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition.

“It is important Kentucky is not focusing an inordinate amount of our corrections budget on low-level offenders.  With the seventh-highest incarceration rate in the nation, it is wise to look to other states that have improved their justice systems and at the same time enhanced public safety. Our threshold will now match neighbors like West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and Ohio, though it will be lower than some states like Texas, which is set at $2,500.

Felony charges make it very difficult for Kentuckians to make a new start after time served.  The Kentucky Chamber is committed to ensuring the state is providing better pathways to be productive citizens,” continued Shanks.

The Legislature also approved HB 497, sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, to remove barriers to reentry for those exiting the corrections system.

HB 497 tasks the Kentucky Department of Corrections with issuing certificates of employability to those who successfully complete programs while in incarceration. In addition, it incentivizes employers by providing liability protections.

The bill further encourages other important reentry supports such as IDs and better access to health care for people leaving incarceration.

“Kentucky is making important strides on reentry,” said Amanda Hall, policy strategist for the ACLU of Kentucky on behalf of the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition.

“For years we have been plagued by a recidivism rate hovering around 40%.  That is simply unacceptable and it is clear legislators are coming around to the idea that we have to be positioning those who are leaving the system for success or we will continue to have a revolving door.  Providing these basic tools allows for better employability. Rep. Moser does a tremendous job of educating her colleagues on criminal justice issues,” continued Hall.