“Alicia’s Law” primed for vote in Senate after clearing judiciary panel

03/09/2015 12:51 PM

FRANKFORT — A bill that would generate at least an estimated $1.5 million for the Kentucky State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force cleared one of its final legislative hurdles Monday, passing the Senate Judiciary Committee despite some concerns of imposing an additional $10 fee on criminal court costs.

The judiciary panel sent HB 427, sponsored by Rep. John Tilley and dubbed “Alicia’s Law” after the kidnap and torture of Alicia Kozakiewicz of Pennsylvania when she was 13, to the full state Senate on an 8-1 vote.

HB 427, which passed the House on a 93-0 vote Feb. 27, would supplement funding for the KSP unit that consists of three investigators and five forensic specialists.

Morgan Sprague, general counsel for KSP, estimated the $10 fees would generate between $1.5 million and $1.7 million annually based on Virginia’s collections of a similar levy. As technology grows in sophistication, Sprague said KSP probes become more costly, especially as investigators seize significant volumes of data to pore over.

The unit currently receives a $300,000 federal grant with the rest of its money comes from a general fund, and the state police will be able to strengthen its Internet task force through the additional $10 court fee on misdemeanor and felony convictions, KSP Maj. John Bradley said.

Oftentimes those who trade pornographic images of children are also hands-on offenders, said David Keith, senior campaign strategist for the National Association to Protect Children.

“We’ve rescued three children in the last two months,” Bradley said, noting there are “thousands” of suspects in Kentucky. “… Every arrest we make potentially saves a child.”

The bill moved to the Senate after some senators aired misgivings about adding an additional fee on court costs that generally range from $130 to $180.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, voted against the HB 427, citing a promise to keep court fees in check. His “no” vote came with some reluctance based on KSP’s work in the child crimes area, but he opposed raising court fees that a number of offenders already struggle to meet.

“If you sit in court and you see the court costs and the people that are literally drowning in court costs, I think something this important we need to fund it and we need to fund it right,” said Schickel, a retired police officer and U.S. marshal.

Senate President Robert Stivers voted for the measure, but he said KSP should have brought the task force’s funding woes to the legislature in last year’s budget session.

He also noted that past one-time grants totaling roughly $1.2 million dried up in 2013, cautioning against relying heavily on the federal grants for recurring revenue.

“I can tell you over 18 years I sat in that chair and watched grant after grant be pulled once you got addicted to it that then you lose it,” Stivers, R-Manchester, said of his time as chairman of the judiciary committee.

“… I’m not opposed to the legislation, but I think members of this body need to be aware of the process that may be used and the lack of reliability of federal funds in the future.”

The legislation seems poised for a trip to Gov. Steve Beshear’s desk. The judiciary committee amended the bill to include a provision that those involved in human trafficking cannot claim misunderstanding the victim’s age as a defense, a measure encompassed in House Bill 515 that passed the House 90-0 Feb. 27.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, chairman of the judiciary panel, said he expected HB 427 to clear the chamber as one of the flurry of bills sent to Beshear before lawmakers adjourn for a 10-day veto recess. No one on the committee spoke ill of the legislation itself, he noted.

“You heard them say that they’re only covering 2 percent of the demand of the work they could be doing across the commonwealth,” said Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. “Two percent, I mean, that’s a fraction of the overall number of cases they could be dealing with across the state, and it’s because they don’t have the resources. I think everybody agrees with that.

“There is some concern about the fee. I don’t know that that would kill the bill. I think it’s got a decent chance at passage on the Senate floor.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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