“Safer Kentucky Act” appears to be stalled in Senate Judiciary Committee

FRANKFORT, Ky.–A controversial Kentucky bill, HB 5, dubbed the “Safer Kentucky Act” by its GOP sponsor, appears to be stalled in committee. The bill quickly passed out of the House on January 25, but has not moved in the Senate since it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 7. An agenda posted online for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Thursday meeting does not include HB 5. Republican Senator Whitney Westerfield, who is not running for re-election, chairs the committee.

Advocates say they oppose HB 5 due to its expansion of criminal penalties and imposition of new ones that could exacerbate incarceration rates, economic hardship, and overdose risks without addressing root societal issues. The bill is criticized for increasing penalties related to fentanyl, criminalizing poverty and homelessness, adding income inequities in the bail system, and imposing counterproductive penalties on families and individuals. These measures are seen as not only failing to enhance public safety but also as likely to lead to greater social and economic disparities​.

“I think it’s too harsh and I think we need to really evaluate whether we want to adopt a tough on crime approach to the homeless. I can’t endorse that,” said Democratic Senator Reginald Thomas at a February 7 press conference.

Sen. Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington) speaks against HB 5 at a press conference on February 7. (The Lexington Times)

So how much time does the Senate have left to pass HB 5?

Senate Judiciary, which meets on Thursdays during the legislative session, still has two more regular meetings scheduled in which it could advance HB 5. Legislative sessions in even-numbered years are longer and legislators have 60 total working days from January to April.

Olivia Krauth of the Gallery Pass reports that Thursday will be day 46 of 60 for the 2024 session. “The House and Senate are going to keep meeting each weekday for this week and next, as they generally have been, before starting to meet less,” Krauth writes.

The veto period — a period where the legislature doesn’t meet — starts March 29 and runs until April 9. The legislature then comes back for two days — April 12 and April 15. While the legislature can pass bills on the last two days of the session, those days are generally reserved for overriding vetoes from the governor, because the legislature cannot override vetoes on bills passed during those two days.

2024 Regular Session Calendar (LRC)
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Paul Oliva is the Lexington Times Editor Emeritus. He grew up in Lexington.