Justice and Public Safety Cabinet
Criminal justice initiatives signed into law
Significant laws relating to Kentucky’s criminal justice system were passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear, including initiatives to curb the rising costs of incarceration and improve the safety of law enforcement officers.
Among the most significant is House Bill 683, an omnibus criminal justice bill that requires that DNA samples be taken from all felons, including juveniles ages 13 and older who are convicted of violent or felony sex offenses. The Kentucky State Police Forensic Lab estimates the legislation could yield an additional 15,000 samples per year for the state database, with the potential to solve an additional 250 cases annually.
The bill also includes initiatives to reduce Department of Corrections’ spending. Under the law, two full-time parole board members will be added to the Kentucky Parole Board, and the board will be allowed to conduct file review of certain Class C felons eligible for parole. Both measures will allow the parole board to review more cases, and to do so earlier in the month, so that parolees may be eligible for release sooner. Additionally, the legislation defines the method of monitoring for inmates completing their sentence on home incarceration to allow for GPS tracking of certain felons.
--The just-concluded session saw the passage of two bills that preserve millions of dollars in federal funding by bringing the state into compliance with federal guidelines. Senate Bill 151 prohibits mandatory polygraphing of alleged sex offense victims, bringing Kentucky into compliance with federal guidelines for receiving nearly $1.6 million annually in STOP Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Formula Grants. These grants are distributed by the Cabinet to agencies throughout the Commonwealth that serve victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. House Bill 384 brings state law into compliance with the federal Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDP Act) of 2002, and aims to reduce the number of status offenders and dependent, neglected and abused children, or “non-offenders,” who are inappropriately or unnecessarily placed in secure detention.
--A law protecting consumers from unknowingly purchasing or inhabiting property that has been contaminated by methamphetamine passed on the final day of the session. Under House Bill 765, law enforcement officials can post notice of methamphetamine contamination on dwellings, and can assess penalties on property owners for removing the notice, or for not alerting prospective buyers or renters about the contamination. The law also allows property owners to self-clean the property if officials determine methamphetamine ingredients were present, but there was no evidence that a meth cook occurred. The bill is pending signature by the governor.
--Child victims or witnesses, ages 12 and younger, of violent offenses will be allowed to testify by closed circuit or video testimony when the court determines there is a compelling need, under Senate Bill 13. The bill protects child victims of violent crime and Internet solicitation from possible revictimization and traumatization by having to face the defendant in court, if the child would be unable to reasonably communicate in their presence.
--Several bills passed this legislative session to improve safety for the Kentucky State Police. House Bill 639 directs the Firearms Confiscation Fund – created by the selling of confiscated firearms from all local, city and county law enforcement agencies – to first be used to purchase body armor before purchasing firearms and ammunition. The bill also allots KSP, which receives the confiscated items and handles their sale, 20% of the gross proceeds of each sale. KSP officials indicate the agency intends to use proceeds to purchase tasers for its officers, part of the agency’s focus on utilizing non-lethal weaponry.
--Police service dogs, which are trained and required to occasionally bite people in the line of duty, will be exempted from the 10-day quarantine law after biting a human, under Senate Bill 159. Prior to this, the police dog would be quarantined for 10 days, even though the animal had been fully vaccinated, taking it out of service for that time.
--House Bill 696 allows vehicle accident reports to be accessed through the KSP website, eliminating the need for accident victims to go to a KSP post or the local clerk’s office. The bill also allows KSP to provide limited vehicle accident report data to alert potential buyers when a vehicle has been in an accident. Until now, KSP could not allow vendors such as CARFAX and EXPERIEN to access the data. Consumers in Kentucky who purchased a used car could not trace the vehicle’s history to determine whether the vehicle has been in an accident.
--Under Senate Bill 226, KSP will be required to reimburse sworn officers for the “rider” policy they purchase for their personal vehicles that extends liability coverage to their police vehicle. The legislation closes a gap in coverage that currently occurs if the officer is injured in the line of duty by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. While workers’ compensation covers most of the losses, there is still a significant gap in pay from sick leave and/or compensatory time that the officer must cover.