Reproductive Rights, Reducing Incarceration Top ACLU’s Legislative Priorities In Kentucky In 2023

As Kentucky waits for the General Assembly to reconvene in Frankfort next month, the ACLU of Kentucky is laying out its legislative priorities for 2023.

Among them are racial justice, reducing incarceration, LGBTQ equality and reproductive freedom, which has taken center stage in the Commonwealth following the overturn of Roe v. Wade last year.

Here’s a deeper look at the issues topping the ACLU’s agenda.

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

In recent years, Kentucky’s Republican-dominated General Assembly has moved aggressively to restrict access to abortion, including the passage of a “trigger” ban outlawing abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade and a separate ban on abortions after six weeks.

The ACLU, which is already challenging the abortion ban in court, says it is ready to go head-to-head with any legislation that aims at further restricting reproductive rights.

“The nature of our mission is really about protecting the liberties of individuals against a state, and no state should be powerful enough [or] should have the authority to force someone to remain pregnant against their will,” said ACLU of Kentucky advocacy director Kate Miller at a press conference this week.

Under Kentucky’s near-total ban, doctors performing abortions and people providing abortion-inducing medications can be charged with a Class D felony. There are no exceptions to the ban in cases involving rape or incest.

Miller said the threat to reproductive rights in Kentucky was even more “troubling” given that Kentucky has some of the worst pregnancy and birth outcomes — and mortality rates — in the country, especially for Kentuckians of color.

While the ACLU says it understands that abortion is a complicated issue and that many people have different experiences and perspectives, they want to challenge the Kentucky General Assembly to find a consensus and ensure that every pregnant person who wishes to remain pregnant receives what they need to do so — including access to unpaid leave and healthcare.

“What I really encourage legislators to do this session, particularly those in the General Assembly who are so fervently in support of restricting access to abortion, [is] to advance legislation to ensure pregnant people not only survive but thrive,” said Miller.

REDUCE INCARCERATION, OVERDOSES

Kentucky’s high incarceration rate — which is amongst the highest in the country and the world — is another focal point for the ACLU.

The ACLU would like to see Kentucky do away with its persistent felony offender law, which allows prosecutors to enhance sentences of people previously convicted of a felony. Miller said that ability — and the threat to use that ability to influence plea deals — is landing more people in prison for longer periods.

Kentucky’s incarceration rate is also driven, in part, by drug-related offenses.

Fentanyl test strips — which are used to detect the presence of fentanyl in other drugs — are currently considered “drug paraphernalia” under Kentucky law, potentially criminalizing their possession. A senate bill aimed at doing that was introduced earlier this month.

This is a real common sense effort,” she said, adding that such a move would lower overdose deaths.

Kentucky is also one of just a handful of states that has permanently barred individuals from voting if they have ever had a felony on their record. The only way to restore voting rights is through expungement or partial pardon from the governor. Miller said the ACLU hopes to see the General Assembly advance a bill that would result in a future ballot question on felon voting rights.

LGBTQ RIGHTS

The ACLU also sounded the alarm on LGBTQ rights in the Commonwealth, highlighting several bills targeting trans youth.

“The attacks on trans kids aren’t just dangerous for LGBTQ kids, who are already more likely to engage in self-harm. It is dangerous for all Kentucky kids and we would really urge the Kentucky General Assembly to more seriously address the issue of abuse and neglect, rather than scapegoat children,” said Miller. 

Among bills already introduced in the session are ones that mandate public school students use the bathroom of their gender assigned at birth and two related to restricting gender-affirming care. 

The ACLU plans on supporting a still-not-filed “fairness law” bill that would bar discrimination based on sexual and gender identity. While at least 24 Kentucky cities, including Louisville, have passed fairness ordinances, there are no state-wide protections.

CROWN ACT

The ACLU is continuing its work to pass the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, in order to work towards racial justice.

“We understand that often hair is a proxy for race and we’ve seen examples, particularly at the ACLU, in terms of school kids being impacted either by the way that the hair grows out of their heads or the protective styles they use for their hair,” said Miller. “And so this is just to ensure that those kids are not denied opportunities that they should be just as entitled to as anybody else.”

To read the ACLU’s full 2023 legislative agenda for Kentucky, click here.

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About the Author

Reproductive Rights, Reducing Incarceration Top ACLU’s Legislative Priorities In Kentucky In 2023

Gracie Vanover is a senior journalism and multimedia student at Indiana University. She has also been heavily involved in journalism since high school. In the past, Gracie has been the Editor-in-Chief of her high school and college paper and also the producer for her high school’s broadcasting program. In her free time, Gracie helps run a non-profit in Louisville called Arts Angle Vantage to get youth involved in both the arts and journalism revolving around the arts.

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