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A sweeping anti-crime bill backed by several Louisville GOP lawmakers got its first committee hearing Friday.
Since it was unveiled in September, the proposal has undergone several changes, said primary sponsor, Rep. Jared Bauman. Provisions removed include establishing a Kentucky State Police post in Jefferson County and creating a statewide wiretapping law for police officers, but the latter may become separate legislation.
Whats left includes a three-strikes law for violent felonies, regulating bail fund organizations, and strengthening privileges for business employees and owners to use a reasonable amount of force necessary to protect themselves or prevent a person detained for theft from escaping.
The simple truth is that the criminal element has become an all too normal part of our world today, Bauman told the committee. Our constituents are fed up. Kentuckians are fed up across generations.
Bauman, whose upcoming legislative session will be his second, appeared with House Republican Whip Rep. Jason Nemes and longtime member Rep. Kevin Bratcher in front of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. Both Nemes and Bratcher are also from Jefferson County.
The proposal, dubbed the Safer Kentucky Act, seeks to tackle crime at many levels and modernize criminal statutes, some of which were written almost 50 years ago, a House press release said.
Though initially reported inaccurately by Kentucky State Police, recent Kentucky crime data shows the state had a decrease of 17.9% in homicides between 2021 and 2022.
Lawmakers on the committee received a draft of the bill ahead of the meeting Friday morning. A copy of the bill was listed in the meeting materials section on the Legislative Research Commissions website by Friday afternoon.
During the meeting, Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, questioned the proposal because a recent report found that if Kentucky were a county, it would have the seventh highest incarceration rate in the world. In response, Bratcher argued that many homicides are not prosecuted. According to one report using FBI data, the rate at which murders are solved or cleared was below 50% in 2020.
To say that theres too many people incarcerated takes out of the equation that theres a lot of them out there that dont even come into the statistics, Bratcher said.
When asked in a press conference after the meeting if funding to alleviate overcrowding in Kentucky jails would be in consideration with the legislation, Bauman said not at this time and that he does not believe Kentucky has an issue with overcrowded jails.
The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a progressive think tank, found in 2022 that Kentucky jails were over capacity again, with 21,831 people incarcerated in jails at the end of April, along with an additional 9,835 people incarcerated in state prisons.
Bauman, along with other legislators from Louisville, discussed the proposal during a Louisville Forum luncheon. There, Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni voiced concern about a part of the bill aimed at preventing street camping, noting that could largely affect people who are experiencing homelessness.
The issue is housing. The issue is being able to address underlying mental health issues and substance use disorders and any trauma that is occurring, she said. There are a lot of reasons people are on the street.
In response, Bauman said the bill would not criminalize homelessness.
Homelessness will still be allowed. It just prevents certain areas where they can camp, Bauman said, adding that such prevented areas include in front of businesses.
Louisville lawmakers supporting the bill unveiled their plans ahead of Kentuckys general election. Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who lost to incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, made a post on X in favor of the bill, noting some of the proposals from his public safety plan were in the proposed legislation.
The 68-page bill is subject to change ahead of the regular legislative session, which begins Jan. 2. During the interim session, lawmakers cannot take action on legislation.