House approves Safer Kentucky Act

January 26, 2024 | 12:10 am

Updated January 26, 2024 | 12:12 am

Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville, speaks on House Bill 5, a comprehensive public safety measure known as the Safer Kentucky Act, on the House floor on Thursday. | Photo by KY LRC

The Kentucky House has approved a comprehensive public safety bill, known as the Safer Kentucky Act. It addresses many issues including repeat and violent offenders, fentanyl overdoses, unlawful camping, shoplifting, and carjacking.

The House approved an amended version of House Bill 5 on Thursday. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville, said the legislation was more than 9 months in the making.

Bauman said he and other stakeholders worked with attorneys, law enforcement, community leaders, constituents, and crime victims and their families on the 72-page bill.

“House Bill 5 includes provisions to address criminals and crime in our state that, on a daily basis, attacks the Kentucky economy, Kentucky families, education performance, and generally the quality of life in our great commonwealth,” Bauman said. “The foundation for civilized society in Kentucky is public safety, security, and protection, and our foundation is broken.”

The Safer Kentucky Act would bring widespread change to criminal law in the commonwealth by instituting harsher penalties for repeat, violent felony offenders and other crimes.

On Thursday, Bauman introduced House Floor Amendment 27. The amendment makes many changes to the version of the bill that was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week. The 11-page amendment is the result of continuing conversations with stakeholders, he said. The House adopted the amendment.

Individuals who sell or distribute fentanyl and cause a fatal overdose could be charged with manslaughter under the amended version of HB 5 instead of capital murder.

The amendment also further clarifies Kentucky’s Good Samaritan law, Bauman said. This ensures individuals who seek aid for someone experiencing an overdose would not be criminally charged in relation to the overdose.

HB 5 would criminalize unlawful camping in Kentucky, making it a misdemeanor on a second offense or subsequent offense. The amended bill, however, would permit houseless individuals to sleep in a vehicle parked lawfully on a public road, street, or parking lot for a period of less than 12 hours.

Shopkeeper’s privilege would be protected under HB 5. The bill would allow store owners to use reasonable force to stop shoplifters. The amended provision would not exempt shopkeepers from facing civil liability, but would continue to protect them from criminal liability.

HB 5 would also establish a felony carjacking statute. The amendment would make it a violent offense.

Individuals convicted of a violent felony would have to serve 85% of their sentence before being eligible for early release, Bauman said about the amendment. Under HB 5, a person would be sentenced to life in prison without parole upon a third violent felony conviction, unless it is a capital offense. Capital offenders could also face the death penalty.

Lawmakers debated the bill for more than 2.5 hours on the House floor.

Rep. Sarah Stalker, D-Louisville, spoke about several concerns she has with the bill, including the financial burden it could place on Kentucky prisons and taxpayers.

“I’m personally interested in investing in Kentuckians, not prisons,” Stalker said. “… Let’s instead invest in our communities, prioritize rehabilitation over punishment, and strive for a future where opportunity, not incarceration, defines the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Bauman said the cost of crime in Kentucky is higher than the potential fiscal impact of HB 5. Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, said the legislature will ensure prisons are properly funded.

“Public safety is important enough that we will make sure that there is funding and capacity if people make horribly bad choices and continue to break the laws of this commonwealth,” Petrie said.

House Minority Caucus Chair Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington, said her heart “bleeds” for the victims, but she struggles with the size of the legislation. Stevenson attempted a parliamentary move to divide the bill into multiple parts, but the motion failed, and she voted against the measure as a whole.

“If this bill had been 10 different bills, I would have voted for a lot of them,” Stevenson said, adding she could not vote “yes” because of the unlawful camping provision.

In explaining his “yes” vote on the legislation, Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, said he supports the 3-strikes provision for violent felony offenders.

“When you violate the trust of this free society, you’ve got to pay a price … and if you can’t participate in a free society, then you need to be removed from that society,” he said.

The House approved the Safer Kentucky Act by a 74-22 vote. The measure now moves on to the Senate for consideration.

Read the full bill and keep up with its progress here.

Information from the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

January 26, 2024 | 12:10 am

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