Criminal justice reform group applauds legislative action

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ)A group that has pushed a variety of criminal justice reforms offered praise for the recently completed legislative session but also expressed home lawmakers won’t be satisfied.

Kentucky Smart on Crime, a coalition of 14 organizations dedicated to justice reforms in the Commonwealth, saluted the General Assembly for a “largely productive session that resulted in the passage of six important bills with strong bipartisan support.”

“There seems to be a growing recognition in the General Assembly that much of what the state has been doing as it relates to crime and punishment just isn’t working,” said Jason Hall, Executive Director of Catholic Conference of Kentucky on behalf of the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition.  “From reentry, to policing, to the penal code, there was notable progress, but we certainly have a long way to go, and reform is an ongoing process.  We appreciate the good work and leadership of Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield and House Judiciary Chairman C. Ed Massey in moving the state forward in important areas,” continued Hall.

SB 36, sponsored by Senator Whitney Westerfield of Crofton, was rolled into SB 32. The legislation reforms the process by which juveniles are transferred to adult court and returns discretion in these cases to local prosecutors and judges.  When it is deemed appropriate, juveniles can be held closer to home so they are better connected to their communities and families and on a pathway for rehabilitation and reform.  The bill also works to address racial disparities.  According to data from the Kentucky Administrative Office of Courts, of 483 cases closed in 2020 in which juveniles were tried as adults, 53% of the defendants were Black when only 8% of the state’s population is Black.

HB 126, sponsored by Chairman C. Ed Massey of Hebron, is legislation aimed at bringing Kentucky’s felony theft threshold statutes to the national median of states at $1,000.  Kentucky’s felony theft threshold has failed to keep pace with inflation and modernization of the criminal legal system, remaining unchanged since 2009. The bill increases 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.  Kentucky’s 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.

HB 497, sponsored by Representative Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, removes 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.

SB 80, sponsored by Senator Danny Carroll of Benton, better defines the law enforcement officer decertification process, protects law enforcement agencies by bringing transparency to prior misconduct by applicants, and requires an officer to intervene when another officer is engaging in the use of unlawful and unjustified excessive or deadly force.

SB 4, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester, significantly limits the use of no-knock search warrants. The legislation sets strict procedures and requirements for the issuance of warrants authorizing police entry without notice.

SB 84, dubbed “Dignity Bill Part 2” and sponsored by Senator Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, this legislation is aimed at providing pregnant women in incarceration the necessary resources for a safe and healthy pregnancy.  The bill forbids solitary confinement during pregnancy and a post-partum period, requires the Department of Corrections to provide more data on the use of solitary confinement, provides for six weeks of post-partum care, expands pregnancy medical release to include community-based treatment for substance use disorder, and ensures mothers have access to social workers for possible reunification after time served.

Several Smart on Crime-supported bills failed to make it across the finish line:

HB 25, sponsored Rep. Killian Timoney of Lexington is aimed at removing barriers to educational attainment for Kentuckians who have a felony conviction.  HB 25 eliminates a state requirement that prevents these individuals from eligibility for the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES), which provides opportunities to students who meet certain metrics related to high school GPA, SAT, ACT, and/or Advanced Placement classes.  The bill passed the House and was approved by the Senate Education committee, but failed to receive a floor vote.  It could see action as part of package of KEES-related bills in 2022.

SB 237sponsored by Senator David Yates of Louisville and Senator Brandon Storm of London, allows for the court to waive expungement fees on a finding an individual lacks the means to pay.  The bill builds on recent progress of other recent expungement reforms of the last 5 years and comes after a Jefferson Circuit Court ruling in which a Louisville man who qualified as indigent was denied a waiver because the judge decided fees related to expungement were not waivable under current law.

Kentucky Smart on Crimes hopes legislators will take up HB 25, SB 237 and finally address the state’s broken bail system, which keeps many behind bars pre-trial simply because many individuals do not have the ability to pay.

Kentucky Smart on Crime is a broad-based coalition working for common sense justice reforms that proactively address individual and systemic racial disparities and inequities, improve public health, enhance public safety, strengthen communities and promote cost-effective sentencing alternatives.

Partner organizations include American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentucky Council of Churches, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc., Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Kentucky Youth Advocates, Volunteers of America Mid-States, Inc., NAACP Kentucky, Kentucky Criminal Justice Forum, and United Way of Kentucky.

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