Sweeping corrections reform bill earns wide support in House, moves to Senate

02/17/2011 06:40 PM

FRANKFORT — A measure containing the most extensive revamping of the state’s drug laws and corrections process received broad support in the state House of Representatives Thursday afternoon.

The bill, sponsored by House Judiciary chair Rep. John Tilley, passed 97-2 and now heads to the Senate.

It is based on the work of a seven-member task force that spent eight months looking at ways to make Kentucky’s prison system more efficient, fair and less costly to state and local governments.

The bill aims to save money over the long term by relying more on probation — but with additional oversight — and faith-based rehab for drug offenders who are determined by the courts to be unlikely to be drug dealers. It also increases penalties for those who are found to be drug traffickers.

In a detailed floor speech, Tilley — a Hopkinsville Democrat — called the bill the “most significant” penal code reforms since the 1970s. He said the bill would save hundreds of millions of dollars for the state, local prisons and county governments.

The seven-member task force that recommended the legislation included Tilley and the Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Jensen, R-London. The other five members included the state’s chief justice, the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet secretary, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a county judge-executive. The Pew Center on the States also provided advice and research.

In his floor speech, Tilley repeatedly said the proposed changes would not take drug offenders lightly or “go soft” on drug traffickers.

The bill also includes a last-minute compromise between organizations representing county governments, hospitals and the medical field, Tilley said.

Two Republicans stood to support the bill on the House floor, including House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown. He said despite some concerns he had about the bill, it was a “step in the right direction” when it comes to reforming Kentucky’s penal code.

The two “no” votes on the bill were Reps. Stan Lee and Joe Fischer, both Republicans. In an interview earlier in the week, Lee told cn|2 Politics that he would have trouble supporting the bill if he felt it was too soft on drug crimes.

An identical bill, sponsored by Jensen, the chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, has received two readings in the Senate, but has yet to be heard or voted on in committee or on the Senate floor.

-Reporting and video production by Kenny Colston


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