Kentucky House committee approves toughened criminal justice bill – JURIST

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A Kentucky House committee approved a bill Thursday that establishes tougher penalties for various criminal offenses. One of the main components of House Bill 5 is its three-strikes provision, which would have people convicted of three violent felonies face life in prison. The bill also toughens penalties for the distribution of fentanyl, classifies carjacking as a Class B felony, and bans street camping.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the proposal after a two-hour hearing that included testimony from people who had lost a loved one due to violent crime, but the bill has prompted fierce criticism from its opponents. The Catholic Conference of Kentucky claims the bill “criminalizes homelessness” by placing limitations on outdoor camping. “Sleeping outside would be a crime,” the group stated on X. “Shelter is a human need. A person without access to a home is a person in need, not a criminal.”

Kungu Njuguna, policy strategist for the ACLU of Kentucky, also expressed concerns about the legislation. “Criminalization penalties don’t make us safe,” Njunga said after the bill had been announced. “We need to invest in mental health, substance abuse disorder, affordable housing, transportation, and education; all of those make us a safer place.”

Njuguna is one of the multiple critics who are concerned the legislation will not tackle the root of the problem. “At no time in the state of Kentucky or in our nation, have we been able to incarcerate ourselves out of an issue ever,” stated Louisville Representative Keturah Herron.

Representative Jared Bauman, the bill’s lead sponsor, disagrees and believes the bill will improve public safety by reducing crime. Bauman claimed that criminals, rather than society, should be held accountable for their actions, and that “society has the right to protect itself from the criminal element.”

Kentucky has the eighth-highest imprisonment rate in the US according The Sentencing Project. While violent crime spiked in the state during the pandemic, a report by the Kentucky State Police found that overall serious crime rates fell across the state in 2022.

Representative Jason Nemes pointed to a report by the Council of State Government that showed a slight increase in violent crime within the state in 2023. Republican House leadership has prioritized House Bill 5 as a way to reduce such violent crime. The bill passed the committee in a 13-5 vote and now moves to the full House. If it is approved there, it will head to the Senate and then the governor’s desk for final approval.





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