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Ky. House Republicans propose sweeping public safety bill, including three-strikes law

Three legislators stand around wooden desk on House floor with camera, marble-colored wall in background.
Legislative Research Commission
Rep. John Hodgson, Rep. Jared Bauman and Rep. Emily Callaway are sponsors on the GOP-backed public safety bill, which especially focuses on crime in Louisville.

In the “Safer Kentucky Act,” Louisville Republican legislators proposed 18 measures that would increase penalties for existing crimes, place restrictions on nonprofit bail funds and ban on “street camping” and homeless encampments in public areas.

Republican Rep. Jared Bauman, the primary sponsor of the proposal, said the group plans to file the bill to protect “honest citizens from those who prey on their innocent fellow citizens.”

“The simple truth is that the criminal element has become an all too normal part of our world today. Well, Kentuckians are fed up, our constituents are fed up with crime in their communities,” he said.

The bill would expand which crimes could lead to the death penalty, including killing a police officer, deadly carjacking and fentanyl trafficking that results in a deadly overdose. It would also create a “three strikes” law that would require life without parole for people convicted of three separate violent felonies.

Bauman, who is in his first term, said the legislation is still in its early stages and he expects it to change in the coming months.

House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, another supporter of the bill, said the group is still determining the full cost of the proposal. He said the money would be well spent if it made Kentucky safer.

“We're trying to make people safe and make them feel safe. So there will be a cost, yes. But whatever it is, it's outweighed by the need for safety,” Nemes said. “This is a bill that is far-reaching…Hopefully it will end up going further.”

Several parts of the bill mirror talking points of Republican gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Earlier in the summer, Cameron announced his own 12-point plan, which included establishing a Kentucky State Police post in Jefferson County, allow state police to use wiretapping, and reforming the parole board — all of which are also included in the proposed act.

“I applaud the General Assembly for their bold proposal to reduce crime across the state,” Cameron said in a statement. “We need a governor who will back the blue, and that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

Cameron is challenging Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in this year's gubernatorial contest. Alex Floyd, Beshear's spokesperson, said in a statement that Cameron has not taken responsibility for crime, despite his role as attorney general.

"Everyone deserves to feel safe, that's why Andy Beshear has increased pay for state troopers, leading to one of the largest recruiting classes on record, and provided funding for the training and tools they need to do their jobs. His administration's work in corrections has led to the lowest recidivism rate on record, making our communities safer," Floyd said.

Bauman announced the proposal in the River City Fraternal Order of Police headquarters in Louisville. Local police union leaders said they also support the plan.

More penalties, same crimes

Several of the points in the plan would make existing crimes felonies or add new penalties. The proposal would allow prosecutors to charge anyone who “knowingly sells fentanyl” with murder – punishable with the death penalty or life without parole – if the sale leads to an overdose.

The proposal would also make carjacking a Class C felony, or a Class B felony if it results in serious injury. Carjackings increased by about about 200% between 2019 and 2020 in Louisville. Federal and local authorities already announced stiffer penalties for carjackings in 2020.

The legislation would also require prosecutors to pursue the death penalty if a person intentionally kills a law enforcement officer. Attorney General Cameron also called for the death penalty as part of his public safety plan.

“I'm against the death penalty. But if we're going to have it in Kentucky, it should include killing an officer,” Nemes said.

The plan would also add higher fines for vandalism and fines parents who don’t show up to their child’s juvenile court hearing.

Restricting bail funds

The bill would prevent charitable organizations from paying more than $5,000 in bail or bailing out someone accused of domestic violence. It also would not allow organizations to bail out a person held under Casey’s Law, which allows relatives or friends to petition the court for treatment on behalf of a person in need of addiction treatment.

Dubbed “Madelyn’s Law,” the proposal is named for Madelynn Troutt, a 17-year-old who was killed by a man who had been bailed out by a charitable organization a few hours before her death in 2021. Troutt’s family filed a lawsuit against the Bail Project but it was dismissed. In August this year, the group stopped posting bail, saying they wanted to focus on advocacy.

A similar proposal passed the state House this year, before dying in the Senate. Bauman said he plans to work with senators to pass the bill next year.

“This one hits home pretty hard as a representative from House District 28, the district where Madelynn Troutt lived, and was tragically killed by someone who should have been behind bars,” he said.

Charitable bail organizations came under scrutiny during racial justice protests in 2020 and after the Louisville Community Bail Fund posted bail for Quintez Brown, who in 2022 was charged with attempted murder of then-mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg.

The Republican proposal announced Wednesday would also require bail organizations to generate a public annual report for the legislature.

Targeting homeless populations

Major Kentucky cities have struggled with caring for and housing a growing unhoused population. Louisville frequently conducts encampment clearings, which advocates say harm homeless people without actually solving any problems.

The GOP public safety proposal calls for a ban on “street camping” in any public streets, sidewalks and other public areas. If property owners or police officers request a person move off the public property, the proposed legislation would empower police to “physically relocate” them and charge them with a misdemeanor.

It would also allow property owners to “defend themselves from the aggressive actions of a person refusing to vacate” without being held criminally liable. “Aggressive actions” is currently undefined under the bill, but Republican Rep. John Hodgson, who is also sponsoring the legislation, said it refers to physical assault.

“If they're not going to seek treatment, and they're not going to abide by the laws of a civilized society, they need to go somewhere else,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson said the bill does not provide any resources or guidance on where homeless people should relocate to or provide assistance for cities hoping to provide alternate housing. The legislation only enables local governments to designate areas “separate from public areas for camping” with appropriate sanitation.

This story has been updated.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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