In anticipation of continuing the Regular Session next week, I spent several productive days reviewing legislation and preparing for the issues that lie ahead. During this three week break, I have held several meetings across the district and in Frankfort with a wide range of people from advocates against domestic violence to the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, John D. Minton, Jr.
The highlight this week was my first Interim Joint Judiciary Committee meeting, alongside my friend and colleague, Rep. John Tilley. The meeting was productive, as we heard testimony from Budget and Justice officials on the criminal justice reforms approved by Kentucky lawmakers in 2011 with HB 463, with a particular focus on whether those reforms are having the intended results: Is the Commonwealth saving money from skyrocketing correctional costs? Are criminal actions being adjudicated properly? According to the speakers, the early numbers seem to indicate positive results, with savings in the neighborhood of $35 million or more since the legislation took effect in 2011, and with recidivism rates dropping with successful monitored court release.
All provisions found in HB 463 are projected by the Office of the State Budget Director to save the state $422 million over 10 years. Other savings are projected to come from reduced recidivism such as, use of citations rather than arrests for low-level misdemeanor offenders, and increased use of substance abuse treatment paid for by reinvestment of savings from reduced incarceration costs, among other things, according to reports on the legislation. While these early reports seem positive, I will be following the numbers closely over this calendar year to confirm the progress continues, and to be sure that we are still providing for the security of the citizens of the Commonwealth.
I have also starting setting up the agendas for the Senate Judiciary meetings over the next month, where I expect to discuss SB 23, Sen. John Schickel’s post-conviction DNA bill, which will allow certain convicted felons to apply for DNA testing to establish innocence, and at little to no cost to the taxpayer; SB 27, by Sen. Tom Buford, which reduces the period of real property redemption from 1 year to 6 months, helping the sale of real estate in Kentucky, and SB 47, my first bill, allowing for DNA samples to be taken upon a felony arrest. SB 47 mirrors a bill filed in the House by Rep. Marzian, and is inspired by the tragic death of Katie Sepich, a young woman from New Mexico who was killed in 2003, but whose killer was convicted through the use of DNA evidence.
I have a bill ready to file before next week’s filing deadline to repeal the prevailing wage in Kentucky, which would free up millions of dollars for use to remedy the state’s pension debt or give teachers and many other state employees a long-overdue cost of living salary adjustment.
I look forward to next week when we will be confronting these difficult challenges on the Senate floor and hearing from the Governor during his State of the Commonwealth address. Please feel free to call me toll-free with any questions, concerns, or comments or visit us at www.lrc.ky.gov to learn more about our work.
Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) represents the 3rd District including Christian, Logan, and Todd counties. He is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Vice-Chair of the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee. Senator Westerfield serves on the Agriculture Committee, the Capital Planning Advisory Board, the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee, and the Transportation Committee.