Republican lawmakers propose 18-point public safety plan
Published 10:03 am Friday, September 29, 2023
It’s not quite Christmas season, but a group of Republican lawmakers already has a wish list for the 2024 legislative session.
Last week, several Kentucky House Republicans presented the Safer Kentucky Act, an 18-point plan including increased crime penalties, parole and bail reform and other public safety provisions.
Rep. Jared Bauman was joined by fellow Republican Louisville Representatives Ken Fleming, Kevin Bratcher, Susan Witten, Emily Calloway and John Hodgson.
Bauman said the Safer Kentucky Act would support law enforcement and “crack down on criminals that are terrorizing our families and neighborhoods.”
“Soft-on-crime policies are destroying cities and states across the country while undermining society’s faith in our legal system and law enforcement,” he said. “This cannot happen any longer in Louisville or across our great Commonwealth.”
What’s in the Safer Kentucky Act?
The “three strikes law”
The first provision would target violent persistent felony offenders.
The so-called “three strikes law” would require life in prison without parole for any criminal who commits three separate violent felonies.
For example, if someone is convicted of two felonies from one event, and serves those sentences at the same time or right after each other, it would count as one “strike.”
Current law allows persistent felony offenders with three strikes to be eligible for parole or probation after ten or 20 years at the earliest, depending on their sentence.
Bauman said he does not think this proposal would result in an increase in prison population.
“If we need to take measures to adapt and adjust available space in our detention facilities, then then that’s something that we will have to have to do,” he said.
“Because we can’t just do nothing based on the current environment we’re experiencing in Jefferson County and a lot of other areas of the state.”
Involuntary confinement for the mentally ill
Rep. Ken Fleming said that this provision is meant to keep someone with a mental illness who has been arrested safe, unable to hurt others or themselves.
It would keep the arrested person in custody while court proceedings progress so they don’t “go out in public to cause any type of issues or problems,” Fleming said.
Rep. Jason Nemes clarified with a post on X, formally Twitter.
“The involuntary detention portion is when a judge says a dangerous person cannot stand trial b/c they cannot assist in their defense yet a psychiatrist says they must be released b/c they aren’t mentally unstable enough,” Nemes wrote. “We close that loophole and say stand trial or be held.”
The legislation would establish a statewide wiretapping statute allowing law enforcement to use the method to investigate criminal gangs or other organized violence.
It will not be applicable for general crime prevention, Nemes said.
Under Kentucky law, a criminal gang can be any group of at least three people with a common leader, name, symbol, location, color, etc.
With such a broad definition, Bauman said that legislators are still early in the process, and “open to adapting and adjusting our approach based on the needs of the community, the needs of law enforcement in the state.”
However, he said, wiretaps already happen in Kentucky all the time. They just need approval by a federal task force member. This law would allow the state to use the same legal process.
“It’s going to allow us to move quicker as we take aim and laser focus on really combating gangs and the organized criminal element,” Bauman said.
Death penalty for murder of law enforcement officers
While Kentucky has not executed anyone in over a decade, this provision would require prosecutors to seek the death penalty “if there is evidence to show that a law enforcement officer was intentionally killed by a lawful performance of his or her duties,” Bauman said.
He added that while he does expect some moral opposition to this provision, he does not think the death penalty is “antiquated” when it comes to murdering police officers.
Preventing street camping
This part of the legislation would ban street camping on public streets, sidewalks or other private property or businesses.
Rep. John Hodgson said the intent is to incentivize people living in these encampments to seek permanent housing and treatment, if applicable.
“If they’re not going to seek treatment and they’re not going to abide by the laws of a civilized society, they need to go somewhere else,” he said.
Two parts of the Safer Kentucky Act are focused on fentanyl.
The first would make anyone who knowingly traffics or sells fentanyl resulting in a fatal overdose eligible for a murder charge.
This would not impact Good Samaritan laws, which protect drug users from being prosecuted if they call 911 for another person who is overdosing.
The second would increase the penalty for someone who knowingly introduces, makes, obtains or possesses fentanyl contraband in detention facilities across the state.
It would move from a Class D felony to a Class C felony, which could carry greater sentences or penalties.
Bail and parole reform
Under part of this legislation — Madelynn’s law— bail-funding groups would no longer be able to provide bail in amounts greater than $5,000.
They would also be prohibited from providing bail for any violent offenses.
The Kentucky legislature attempted to pass a similar law in 2022, but it did not make it to the Senate floor.
Bauman said that he thinks there is enough momentum to get it done in 2024.
“It takes multiple attempts to pass certain bills, not because we don’t want to pass them or don’t need to pass them, but because we only have a certain amount of time and a lot of bills to work through,” he said.
The Safer Kentucky Act would also reform the parole board by requiring a higher voting threshold to grant parole.
There are several other parts of the proposed bill, including:
- establishing a Kentucky State Police post in Jefferson County;
- allowing private citizens and nonprofits to participate in auctions of confiscated guns;
- removing the possibility of parole, probation or conditional discharge for those convicted of using illegally-obtained guns in crimes;
- setting the felony threshold for vandalism at $500;
- creating a statute classifying carjacking as a Class C felony;
- requiring those leaving incarceration to be provided a personal identification card;
- requiring parents to attend juvenile court hearings or face community service hours and a $500 fine;
- increasing penalties for attempted murder and adding it to the violent offenses list; and
- allowing employees and business owners to use “reasonable force” against shoplifters.
Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Ryan Straw was at the bill’s announcement. He said that KY FOP would continue to work with the Republican lawmakers throughout the bill-writing process.
“We’re just interested in anything that’s going to reduce crime. We obviously are going to continue to have discussions. Everything’s fluid,” Straw said. “… There’s definitely things that we like on the table and we want to have further discussions about.”