Legislative Update – February 28, 2020

Week eight of the 2020 Regular Session is in the books. Now that we have passed the halfway point of this session, the countdown begins as we in the Senate anticipate the 2020-2022 budget bill from the House of Representatives, which we are expecting to receive by early March.

While crafting the biennial budget remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we are staying the course to uphold our other legislative obligations as members of the General Assembly by passing bills that include specific reforms and amendments to help us move the Commonwealth forward.

I am pleased to announce that this year’s school safety measure, Senate Bill (SB) 8, has been signed into law by the Governor. Passing both chambers with bipartisan support, SB 8 requires the trained and certified law enforcement officers already serving in Kentucky schools to be armed. The School Safety and Resiliency Act, which passed in 2019, implemented additional security and safety standards for schools, such as the requirement of a school resource officer and increased mental health services. In loving memory of those involved in the 2018 Marshall County High School shooting, I am encouraged by this momentous stride made by the General Assembly to better protect Kentuckians within our school walls. 

The Senate passed three constitutional amendments this week, all of which relate to responsible criminal justice reform. Constitutional amendments passed by the Kentucky General Assembly go through a slightly different process than regular bills by also requiring the approval of Kentucky voters. If a legislatively referred constitutional amendment is passed by both chambers, the proposed amendment will be placed on the ballot at the next general election during which members of the state legislature are up for election. If approved by a simple majority of voters, it becomes part of the constitution.

Passing early in the week was Senate Bill (SB) 15, or “Marsy’s Law.” This measure would enshrine in the Kentucky Constitution certain rights for crime victims, including the right to be notified of all criminal court proceedings involving the accused, and reasonable protection from the accused. Kentucky voters approved this law in 2018, with 63 percent support. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the question on the ballot was too vague, therefore voiding the vote. SB 15 includes updated language and improvements. Moreover, I hope to see Marsy’s Law on the ballot again this November.

Another constitutional amendment advancing this week is SB 58, which would curtail a governor’s ability to issue pardons on the way out of office. In other words, a governor would not be able to issue pardons or commutations during a certain period of time, beginning thirty days prior to the gubernatorial election and ending on the fifth Tuesday after the election—before the next governor is sworn in.

Sections of the Kentucky Constitution granting a governor the power to pardon date back to 1891, when it wasn’t unheard of to duel—the kind involving guns. Since then, our society and the composition of our judicial system has changed dramatically. It’s important to keep in mind that the power to pardon allows one man or woman to override the judgement of multiple authorities and officials within our criminal justice system. To limit the possibility of political corruption, SB 58 implements overdue, responsible oversight to a governor’s power to pardon.

Also passing was SB 62. This measure would grant the General Assembly the authority to establish standards for giving persons convicted of certain felonies the right to vote. However, the new process to restore voting rights would exclude those convicted of treason, bribery in an election, a violent offense, a sex offense or an offense against a child. Currently, Kentucky is one of only two states, along with Iowa, with a lifetime voting ban for felons. Although there was an executive order put into place in late 2019, there are still around 170,000 Kentuckians that are still without the right to vote due to a prior felony conviction. If approved by the House and Kentucky voters, SB 62 could give former felons a clearer path to regaining their voting rights. 

The Senate also passed a number of other bills this week:

SB 132- Adds individuals with state-issued personal identification cards to a master list of potential jurors, giving us a wider representation of our communities within our jury pools. The list of potential jurors was last expanded by the General Assembly in 2002.

SB 160 Reorganizes the Office of the Attorney General into the following major organizational units: Criminal Division, Civil Division, Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of Communications, and the Office of Administrative Services. Language within SB 160 also creates the position of Solicitor General.

The pace in Frankfort is getting quicker and I anticipate an increase of visitors and advocates from across the Commonwealth. As always, I welcome your input on these issues. I am honored to be your voice in Frankfort.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Damon.Thayer@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online atwww.legislature.ky.gov

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