Kentucky ACLU Pushes For ‘Breonna’s Law,’ Other Reforms In 2021 Session

Jan 29, 2021

Credit Kevin Willis

The ACLU of Kentucky has unveiled their 2021 legislative priorities, including a statewide ban on no-knock warrants, protecting reproductive rights and several measures seeking to reform the criminal justice system.

The civil rights organization’s wish list includes bills sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, including bipartisan efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, raise the threshold for felony theft and paid family leave for state workers.

Any successful legislation proposed in Kentucky requires Republican buy-in, since the party currently controls 75% of seats in the state legislature.

One of the group’s main efforts is Breonna’s Law for Kentucky, a bill that would ban most no-knock warrants across the state, require body cameras when officers are executing a warrant, and mandate interviews and drug testing of police within two hours of firing their weapons.

The bill is named after Breonna Taylor, whom Louisville police killed while serving a search warrant. Keturah Herron, policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky, said the bill is about preservation of human life.

“This bill would allow Breonna to do what she always wanted to do, and that was to save human lives,” Herron said.

The bill is sponsored by Louisville Democratic Rep. Attica Scott, who is also sponsoring initiatives like the Crown Act, which would ban discrimination based on natural hairstyles, and House Bill 266, requiring Medicaid reimbursement for doula services.

The ACLU is also pushing for House Bill 54, which would provide 12 weeks of paid family leave to state workers. The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Jason Nemes and Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond, both of Louisville.

Jackie McGranahan, also with the ACLU, said the bill is a “great first step” in expanding paid leave in the state.

“Offering paid leave to all staff better positions folks to make the best decisions for themselves and their families when it comes to pregnancies,” McGranahan said.

The organization is advocating for several measures to reform the state’s criminal justice system, an effort that has gained bipartisan support in recent years but ultimately come up short on some key issues.

House Bill 126, sponsored by Republican Rep. C. Ed Massey, would raise the threshold for what counts as felony theft from $500 to $1,000.

Amanda Hall, with the ACLU, said the measure would reduce the number of people convicted of felonies and bring Kentucky more in line with surrounding states.

“We really want to see less people have that felony conviction on their record, because we obviously see the way that a felony conviction can impact all civil rights,” Hall said.

Senate Bill 36 is Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield’s effort to give judges more discretion when deciding whether to transfer minors to adult court. It’s been filed for the last three years but failed to pass out of the legislature. In 2020, it passed out of the Senate but didn’t make it out of the House.

According the ACLU, 53% of young people charged as adults are Black youth, while just 8% of the state’s population is Black.

House Bill 232 is Republican Rep. Jason Nemes’ bill to restore voting rights to those convicted of some felonies. Gov. Andy Beshear restored voting rights to many by executive order, but the legislature hasn’t codified the effort.

Senate Bill 84 is Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams’ bill that would allow for six weeks of postpartum care for pregnant women who are incarcerated, along with access to substance use disorder treatment and a social worker. It would ban solitary confinement for pregnant Kentuckians.

Two bills would ban the death penalty: Senate Bill 60 by Republican Sen. Stephen Meredith seeks to ban the death penalty outright, and House Bill 148 by Republican Rep. Chad McCoy seeks to ban the execution of mentally ill Kentuckians.