A group of Kentucky Republican lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a three-strikes law that would keep people locked up after being convicted of a third violent felony offense.
The proposal is part of a sweeping plan to combat crime that was unveiled a few months ahead of the 2024 legislative session, which begins in early January. Other key elements would create the toughest penalties possible for directly causing fentanyl-related deaths and allow business owners to use a “reasonable amount” of force for workers and business owner to protect themselves from people who are shoplifting or committing other crimes.
“Our constituents are fed up with crime in their communities,” said Rep. Jared Bauman, who was among several Louisville GOP lawmakers who support the proposed legislation.
The so-called three-strikes law would stop the judicial system's “revolving door” of those who continue to commit violent felony crimes, Bauman said. It would require life in prison without the possibility of parole for committing three violent felonies in Kentucky, he said.
“We cannot just stand by as our state’s most violent offenders circulate between the courts, the correction system and back on our streets committing crimes," he said.
The proposed legislation seeks to crack down on the prevalence of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid blamed as a key factor for the state's persistently high death toll from drug overdoses. The proposal would allow for the death penalty or life in prison without parole for knowingly selling fentanyl or a fentanyl derivative that results in a fatal overdose.
The measure would offer both workers and business owners civil and criminal immunity in cases where they can claim to prevent theft, or to protect themselves and their stores. “One of the most important rights a citizen has is the right to protect what is theirs,” Bauman said.
The law would also require prosecutors to seek the death penalty when evidence indicates a law enforcement officer was intentionally killed while performing his or her duties.
Other provisions would establish a wiretapping law for Kentucky, increase penalties for attempted murder, require parents to attend their children's juvenile court hearings, bolster the penalty for providing contraband substances in a jail or prison, create a standalone carjacking law and increase penalties for vandalism.
The plan is expected to be presented to an interim legislative committee for review later this year, as lawmakers scrutinize the details before the January start of the legislative session in Frankfort.
Republicans hold supermajorities in the Kentucky House and Senate. The proposal reflects many of the anti-crime recommendations from Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in the November election. They have offered rival plans to combat crime in the commonwealth. Cameron is the state's attorney general, succeeding Beshear in the job.
The three top-ranking Democrats in the House — Reps. Derrick Graham, Cherlynn Stevenson and Rachel Roberts — said in a joint statement that they had not yet seen the proposed legislation. Lawmakers have enacted bipartisan “smart on crime” initiatives in the past that “have made a true difference when it comes to increasing public safety, preserving constitutional rights and keeping incarceration costs from skyrocketing,” they said. "We will review these proposals through that prism.”