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Ky. lawmaker blames filing error on bill that would have legalized sex between first cousins

Man speaks into microphone
Kentucky Legislative Research Commission Public Information
Republican state Rep. Nick Wilson of Williamsburg is an attorney who previously won Survivor: David vs. Goliath, and is in his first term.

A Republican lawmaker is withdrawing and refiling a bill that would have added “sexual contact” to Kentucky’s incest statute because of a filing error that struck first cousins from the list of relationships that legally qualify as incest in the state.

Rep. Nick Wilson of Williamsburg – who first gained fame as the winner of Survivor: David vs. Goliath, a themed-season of the reality competition show that aired in 2018 – drew criticism on social media Tuesday night for House Bill 269 hours after its introduction.

Wilson, a 33-year-old former public defender and prosecutor who still practices as a private attorney, said the original intent of the bill was to create a new law protecting Kentuckians from “acts that don't amount to intercourse” from people with familial relationships.

“The purpose of the bill is to add sexual contact to the incest statute. Currently, incest only applies in cases of intercourse,” he said. “So we're seeing cases of sexual touching, groping, those sorts of sexual activities by uncles, stepdads, people with those familial relationships … and they're not included in the incest statute.”

In a social media post Wednesday morning, Wilson explained that his bill would add sexual contact to the state’s incest statutes. The change would make that kind of contact a Class D Felony. It would also increase the penalty to a Class C Felony if the victim were under the age of 12.

Wilson is a first-term representative who ran unopposed for the House District 82 seat in 2022. He said he feels “embarrassed” and “frustrated” by the attention and confusion the bill has drawn online, but that it’s worth it if he can fix the bill and better protect young Kentuckians.

“Obviously, the stereotypes or jokes that may come with it … it's a little embarrassing, but I can take it if that's what it takes for me to pass a good law and protect people, that's fine. That's the job I have,” Wilson said. “What I would hope is that it doesn't lessen the importance of the actual issue I'm facing and, [if] people want to make memes or jokes, that it's directed at me and not victims of child abuse or sexual abuse.”

Wilson has filed a number of bills seeking to enhance protections for young Kentuckians during this year’s General Assembly, including legislation that would allow written reports of dependency, neglect, or abuse of a child; legislation that would make it illegal to travel to Kentucky “with the intent to engage in specified sexual offenses;” and a bill that would make it illegal to possess or traffick in “child sex dolls.”

The eastern Kentucky Republican plans to withdraw the bill Wednesday and refile it without the “inadvertent change” striking first cousins from the statute.

“I think, if I had more experience, I wouldn't have made this mistake,” Wilson said. “I should have maybe had more eyes on it. I showed a few attorneys that didn't catch it, and I think that's because our focus was on the part of the bill that is the meat of the change we want to make.”

After it’s refiled, Wilson wants the bill to get a second chance.

“I think that shows our system is working. What I filed doesn't automatically become law. There's many opportunities to review it, fix it and then pursue it,” Wilson said. “Because I think it's a great bill. I think it's needed. I've seen lots of victims of this. Familial abuse, it happens, and it's a very bad thing.”
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Derek Operle