‘Tough on crime’ Safer Kentucky Act proposed
Published 2:43 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023
A group of Republican legislators is presenting an omnibus crime bill this session increasing criminal penalties and strengthening enforcement.
Last week, State Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville, shared the latest version of the bill, which contains nearly 30 provisions.
Bauman said that the proposed legislation is intended to create a “vision of unstoppable prosperity” for Kentuckians.
He added that the four pillars supporting that vision are a strong economy, the Kentucky family, education and quality of life.
“But foundational to all of those, the foundation for our civilized society here in Kentucky, is public safety, security and protection,” he told the interim judicial committee. “And our foundation is broken.”
Kentucky Republicans and Democrats often argue over whether crime is rising or falling. According to Kentucky State Police crime data, while overall serious crime rates declined by 9% since 2021, homicides have increased by 31% since 2019.
Bauman cited concerns over Kentucky’s overdose death rate – the fourth highest in the country, according to the CDC – the cost of retail crime to businesses and a recent rise in violent carjackings.
What’s in the Safer Kentucky Act?
The Three Strikes Law would require those who committed three separate violent felonies to be sentenced to life in prison without parole or potentially, the death penalty.
If an individual has two or more convictions, but serves them at the same time or consecutively, it counts as one “strike.”
Those who use an illegally-possessed gun in a crime would not be eligible for early release of any kind under this proposed bill.
Some committee members suggested that Bauman edit this provision to all firearms, legally or illegally possessed.
The bill would also allow firearms used in murders to be destroyed. Currently, confiscated weapons are auctioned off to agencies to raise money for law enforcement.
This provision would require winners of auctioned off murder weapons to agree to have the weapon destroyed.
This bill would target drive-by shooters by increasing the penalty for wanton endangerment with a firearm from a Class D to a Class C felony.
Violent offenses are subject to greater penalties and harsher sentences than non-violent offenses in Kentucky.
The Safer Kentucky would add several offenses to the list:
- Wanton endangerment with discharge of a firearm;
- Attempted murder; and
- Carjacking when the driver or passenger is present and intimidation or force is used.
The bill creates a carjacking statute, which does not currently exist in Kentucky, and makes it a Class B felony.
Bauman said that he wants to crack down on street camping “to protect the rights of property owners, public spaces and business owners across the commonwealth.”
The bill would ban street camping, which includes tents, huts, temporary shelters and vehicles, on public streets, in front of businesses and on private property.
Homeless individuals in violation of this ban would get a warning the first offense and a Class B misdemeanor all subsequent offenses.
Bauman said that the bill would allow local governments to designate indoor or outdoor areas as temporary camping locations.
People who are homeless would also be ruled ineligible for permanent housing until after they enter treatment services for mental health or substance abuse.
Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, objected to this, saying that it violates the “housing first” model of treating homelessness.
“There’s more than decades of research across the country and across the world that shows that housing first gets dangerous, drug-addicted people off the street, and then you can start working on those things,” Burke said.
Increased crime penalties
The Safer Kentucky Act would sentence those convicted of murdering first responders – police officers, sheriffs, EMS workers and firefighters – to life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
While it’s not in the current bill version, Bauman said that the intent is to also require convicted individuals to pay compensation to the victim’s family.
Adults who use juveniles as criminal accomplices would be charged one level above the normal charge for whatever offense they commit.
Fleeing the police would be increased to a Class C felony with no early release until the convicted individual serves at least half of their sentence.
Parents or guardians who miss their child’s juvenile court hearings would be subject to up to a $500 fine and 40 hours of community service.
Those who violate domestic violence protective orders repeatedly would face a Class D felony, as opposed to a Class A misdemeanor, for every repeated violation within a five year period of their last violation.
The violation does not need to be against the same victim.
Smuggling contraband into a detention facility would become a Class D felony, and a Class B felony if the contraband was fentanyl or one of its derivatives.
Drug dealers who knowingly sell fentanyl that causes a fatal overdose would face murder charges.
Finally, vandalism causing over $500 in damage would increase to a Class D felony, or a Class B misdemeanor if the offender makes restitution before their trial.
The Safer Kentucky Act would require those granted parole to participate in violence intervention programs before their release.
Everyone leaving incarceration would get a state-issued identification from the Transportation Cabinet, too.
Lastly, the state would regularly evaluate reentry programs by gathering recidivism data from each and appropriately allocating funds based on the results.
Some other Safer Kentucky Act measures include:
- removing the requirement of a demonstrated history of criminal behavior for involuntary confinement;
- limiting bail-funding organizations to $5,000 bails, and banning bailouts for violent offenses;
- requiring two-thirds of the parole board to approve parole
- allow business owners and employees to use a “reasonable amount of force” to detain those they believe are shoplifting;
- updates witness intimidation to include harassment sent electronically;
- requires schools to report any threats of violence or deadly weapons to law enforcement; and
- expanding terroristic threatening law to include workplaces and gatherings of at least three people.
Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, criticized the bill for removing too much judicial discretion, disproportionally impacting marginalized communities and “authorizing and almost encouraging individuals to use force against other folks that are homeless.”
Burke added that Kentucky has the seventh highest incarceration in the world, and that this method won’t work.
“So if putting people in prison was going to solve our problem, it would have already,” she said.