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Sen. Rand Paul praises Louisville-area lawmakers' efforts on anti-crime bill

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul talks with Kentucky Republican lawmakers at a roundtable discussion in Louisville on Monday Dec. 18, 2023.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul talks with Kentucky Republican lawmakers at a roundtable discussion in Louisville on Monday Dec. 18, 2023.

In the meeting, Paul lauded lawmakers’ efforts to reduce violent crime through legislation that includes new and increased penalties for carjacking, fentanyl dealing and other offenses.

“[Victims of crime] don't want their kids to go to jail for marijuana or for drug possession,” Paul said. “As long as it's separated out, and you're trying to say, ‘No, no, we want that bad kid who’s shooting in your houses and who’s going to shoot your kid at the bus stop — that's who we want out of your neighborhood'.”

The so-called Safer Kentucky Act includes several provisions that, if passed in its current state, would likely send people who commit certain crimes to prison for longer periods of time.

One of the primary components includes a version of a “Three Strikes Law” that would automatically sentence people to life in prison with no eligibility for parole following three violent felony convictions.

Paul said he is wary of laws that carry automatic life sentences, but he supports them for crimes like rape or murder.

“While I'm not for drug salesmen or anything, at the same time, I want to give some of those people a second chance,” Paul said. “If you murdered somebody I'm not big on [second chances]. Some of those people will get out, but I'm for keeping them and as long as possible.”

And the Safer Kentucky Act does appear to do that, although not for explicitly violent crimes alone. For example, it would increase charges and penalties for fentanyl delivery causing an overdose, increase penalties for smuggling contraband into a jail or prison, up the felony class for fleeing or evading the police, and make unauthorized “street camping” a misdemeanor offense, which would primarily target people without permanent housing.

Republican Rep. Jared Bauman of Louisville, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, said he considered Paul’s input “very valuable,” as he continues to garner input from different legislators and advocacy groups. The legislation received its first hearing Friday when lawmakers released the 68-page draft to the public ahead.

“We are continuing to have discussions with everyone. After the hearing last week, as you might imagine, a number of people have reached out,” Bauman said.

Paul and the group of legislators discussed where common ground may exist between the two parties on the issue of public safety. Paul said he thinks both Democrats and Republicans can agree the government needs to do something about gun violence.

They discussed drive-by shootings — for which the Safer Kentucky Act would increase penalties — and the illegal purchases of firearms by people with a felony on their record.

“If you're a felon and try to buy a gun, you get caught in the system. That is a felony, but we don't prosecute it nationwide,” Paul said.

The proposed public safety bill would also increase penalties for anyone found with an illegally purchased or modified gun in their possession, but it does not propose stiffer penalties for people at the point of sale. And even if it did, Kentucky does not have a state law requiring firearms dealers initiate a background check before handing over guns to a buyer.

Bauman said there are already some elements of the bill in which his Democratic colleagues agree on — like some provisions that would ease re-entry once a person completes their sentence.

“There's definitely common ground. There are parts of the bill that everyone supports on both sides of the aisle,” Bauman said. “We'd like to really hear more from our Democratic colleagues, so we can make sure we put forth the best policy possible in January.”

The General Assembly will begin meeting to pass legislation on January 2.

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.