The Road to Amendment

The Road to Amendment

This post was originally published in the Kentucky New Era, January 29, 2018.

October 2015 was a significant month for public policy in Kentucky.  The Interim Joint Judiciary Committee made its appearance in Hopkinsville, and it was at this meeting that I heard the testimony from West Powell that changed my mind about felony expungement.  As you read this, Kentucky now has a felony expungement statute for the benefit of convicts who’ve turned their lives around.  But few people know that was also a red-letter day for victims, as it was the first meeting I had regarding Marsy’s Law.

John Tilley and I hung around the City Council chambers after the rest of the committee members left and we heard the story about Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas for the first time.  I left the meeting excited about the idea of creating Constitutional protections for crime victims, and my work to do so began in earnest.

I filed SB175 in 2016, and the amendment was debated in committee before eventually passing the Senate with only a single no-vote.  The bill passed the committee vote in the House before being stopped at the one-yard-line because of politics.  I was told at the time by the former Speaker that the leadership liked the bill but “we want to work on it,” which was an unmistakable euphemism for “we don’t like that its your bill.”  I went back to the drawing board.

I continued to advocate for the bill in the interim of 2016, and had the opportunity to work with the former state representative from Greenup County, who had previously also served as a judge.  He proposed a two-bill approach: the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation to spell out some of the finer details.  I liked the idea, and it stuck.

In 2017 I filed the bill again, believing we had a solid draft ready to move forward.  But we were foiled again, this time by Senate and House leadership who elected not to advance any constitutional amendments.  This was disappointing, but I pushed ahead, undaunted.

Senate Bill 3 completes criminal justice reform — reduce reoffending by putting a real face to the crime: the victim’s.

I continued to hear questions from stakeholder groups, usually asking “what if” questions, the kind we often had to look outside of Kentucky to states with Marsy’s Law already on the books to answer.  Dozens of drafts were written and revised.  Hundreds of emails were bounced around, testing phrasing, sentence structure and calibrating the core set of victims’ rights based on case law, other states’ experiences and importantly, tailored it to fit Kentucky’s justice system.  The bill was presented again to different interim committees, for questions and feedback.  By the time 2017 was drawing to a close we believed we were ready for 2018, and the hope to get the bill passed this year was the greatest it had been.  If we failed to pass Marsy’s Law this year, it would mean a delay of two more years before another ballot for a constitutional amendment would come around.

January 2, 2018, the first day of session, I filed SB3 and SB30, the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation, respectively.  Marsy’s Law had the support of nearly two dozen co-sponsors, from the right and the left, from the east and the west, and from rural and urban legislators.  We continued to meet with legislators who had questions and soon believed we had enough support to move forward.  SB3 was heard in committee on January 10, where it passed unanimously.  Later that same afternoon, in a strong statement of support for Marsy’s Law, Senate leadership advanced SB3 to the floor for a vote, making it the first to pass through the Senate in 2018.

The strong support did not stop there, as the House leadership promptly referred Marsy’s Law to committee and then to the floor where it passed with an overwhelming majority on January 24.  A day later, the bill was officially received by the Secretary of State, its last procedural step before voters get their say in November.

Our voices, and the voices of victims and survivors across Kentucky, were heard resoundingly in Frankfort.  Not only was Marsy’s Law the first bill to pass the Senate in 2018, it was the first bill to pass the House too, making a bold, bipartisan statement by the General Assembly that victims shall no longer be treated as mere witnesses to crimes, but should be recognized and granted fundamental rights to empower them and restore their dignity in a criminal justice system that for too long has ignored them!

Sponsoring Marsy’s Law, fighting for its passage and seeing it succeed, has been a highlight of my time in Frankfort.  But now we begin the work to educate the voters of Kentucky.  I look forward to November when we can stand shoulder to shoulder across Kentucky knowing we’ve made a lasting, historic stand for victims — giving constitutional strength to their voices for the first time.

Now It's Our Turn!

Now It's Our Turn!

Your voices, and the voices of victims and survivors across Kentucky, were heard resoundingly in Frankfort today as Senate Bill 3 — Marsy’s Law — made final passage in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin!

Not only was Marsy’s Law the first bill to pass the Senate in 2018, it was the first bill to pass the House too, making a bold, bipartisan statement by the General Assembly that victims shall no longer be treated as mere witnesses to crimes, but should be recognized and granted fundamental rights to empower them and restore their dignity in a criminal justice system that for too long has ignored them!

Marsy’s Law has been my passion and I have proudly fought for the principle that crime victims deserve equal rights. I urge Kentuckians to vote YES on Marsy’s Law in November.”
— Sen. Whitney Westerfield, Marsy's Law Sponsor

Because of your voice and support, Marsy’s Law will appear on our ballots this November for voters across Kentucky to ratify as an amendment to our Constitution!  It has been a highlight of my time in Frankfort to sponsor Marsy’s Law and fight for its passage, but that fight continues until the voters have their say at the ballot box in 10 short months.  Continue this fight with me!

Get involved in the Marsy’s Law ballot campaign here by becoming a part of your county’s ML Team! Post to Facebook and Twitter, using #ML4KY to help us spread the word!

I look forward to November when we can stand shoulder to shoulder across Kentucky knowing we’ve made a lasting, historic stand for victims — giving constitutional strength to their voices for the first time!

Initial Proposed Budget

Initial Proposed Budget

Every two years the Legislature convenes a "long" regular session, running 60 legislative days.  During this even-year session we draft and vote on the Commonwealth's biennial budget.  This process takes many months, but the document itself gets it first official unveiling when the sitting Governor of the day makes his or her State of Commonwealth address in mid-January.  Last week, Governor Bevin gave his address to a joint session of the Senate and House and the following day the various budget bills were filed in the House (where law requires all appropriations bills to begin) and the legislative process begins in earnest.

Below are the budget bills for you to download and review if you're curious.  The bill must pass the House (where it will certainly change shape), before coming to the Senate (where it will change again), and then customarily a free conference committee is formed (made up of House and Senate members) to hammer out a compromise.  Once a unified version of the bill has passed both chambers it heads to the Governor for his signature or veto.

Marsy's Law Moves Forward

Marsy's Law Moves Forward

23,785

This represents the total number of felony convictions in Kentucky — for 2017 alone.  We know there is at least 1 victim in each of those cases, and many have more than 1.

Unfortunately, those nearly 24,000 Kentuckians in your communities have inadequate rights, or in some cases no rights at all, in the criminal justice system — a system in which, today, they are mere witnesses.

SB 3 completes criminal justice reform. Reduce reoffending by putting a real face to the crime – the victim’s.

Currently, Kentucky provides only statutory protections for crime victims. As you know, statutory protections are not legally as strong as the many constitutional protections that are provided to the accused or convicted.

This imbalance means that victim’s statutory rights are often overlooked. And when this happens, it makes victims feel as if they are standing outside of the process, when in fact the system should be just as focused on them as it is the defendant.    Senate Bill 3, known as Marsy’s Law, seeks to change that.

After more than 2 years of hard work, stakeholder meetings and input, and thorough scrutiny by the General Assembly, we have arrived at Senate Bill 3, and its companion, Senate Bill 30.  A bill supported by dozens of groups like the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, The Mary Byron Project, the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the KY FOP, the KY State Police Professional Association, and the Kentucky League of Cities — and by hundreds of leaders across the state, including some of you.

So what are the rights?

 

  • The right to NOTICE OF PROCEEDINGS, of RELEASE or ESCAPE
  • The right to BE PRESENT
  • The right to PROCEEDINGS FREE FROM UNREASONABLE DELAY
  • The right to CONSULT WITH THE PROSECUTION
  • The right to REASONABLE PROTECTION FROM THE ACCUSED
  • The right to CONSIDERATION OF VICTIM SAFETY WHEN SETTING BAIL/RELEASE
  • The right to RESTITUTION
  • The right to FAIRNESS and CONSIDERATION OF THE VICTIM’S SAFETY, DIGNITY & PRIVACY
  • The right to BE INFORMED OF THESE RIGHTS

…And critically, the victim is granted STANDING to assert these rights.

In short, Marsy’s Law creates a criminal justice system that finally recognizes the victim as an equal. In the words from a friend of mine who is a Judge from Georgia who saw that I filed Marsy’s Law: “SB 3 completes criminal justice reform. Reduce reoffending by putting a real face to the crime – the victim’s.”

I'm excited to report that as of this writing SB 3 has passed committee (unanimously) and became the first bill to pass the Kentucky Senate in 2018 (35-1), and now heads to the House for consideration.  If it makes final passage in the Legislature it then heads to the ballot this November for all Kentucky voters to make their voices heard!

 
(NOTE: Sen. Bowen cast his vote the following day after missing due to sickness, putting the final vote tally at 35-1.)

(NOTE: Sen. Bowen cast his vote the following day after missing due to sickness, putting the final vote tally at 35-1.)