Three-strikes proposal part of sweeping anti-crime bill unveiled by House Republicans in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in the Kentucky House unveiled a three-strikes measure on Tuesday that would keep people locked up after being convicted of a third violent felony.

The proposal is part of a much broader anti-crime bill designated as a priority for Republicans in the 60-day session. The measure surfaced during the second week of the session after lawmakers spent months meeting with stakeholders and tinkering with many of the provisions.

Dozens of House members quickly signed on as cosponsors, with more expected to follow.

“This bill is about putting people who are going to continue to commit crime, getting them off our streets,” said Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, among the bill’s supporters.

The proposal would result in life in prison without the possibility of parole for those who commit three violent felonies in Kentucky, GOP Rep. Jared Bauman, the bill’s lead sponsor, told reporters.

Crime was a central issue in last year’s gubernatorial campaign, won by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. Beshear and GOP challenger Daniel Cameron offered competing public safety plans.

Lawmakers will ultimately set the policy direction for any anti-crime bill reaching the governor’s desk.

The legislation unveiled Tuesday also seeks to crack down on the prevalence of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid blamed as a key factor for the state’s high death toll from drug overdoses. The bill would toughen penalties for knowingly selling fentanyl or a fentanyl derivative that results in a fatal overdose.

The measure would create a standalone carjacking law and increase penalties for several crimes, ranging from attempted murder to fleeing or evading police. Other provisions aim to crack down on drive-by shootings and would offer both workers and business owners civil and criminal immunity in cases where they tried to prevent theft or protect themselves and their stores. It also would limit bail payments by charitable bail organizations to less than $5,000.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky criticized several elements including the three-strikes measure, with Kungu Njuguna, a policy analyst for the group, saying that “criminalization penalties don’t make us safe.”

Njuguna pointed to already-high incarceration rates in Kentucky and said a better strategy for improving public safety is to invest more in mental health and substance use treatment, affordable housing, transportation and education.

“We need to get at the root causes of what get people into the criminal legal system and prevent them from getting into the system,” Njuguna told reporters.

The three-strikes proposal reflects the overarching goal of combating violent crime, bill supporters 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,” Bauman said. “Let’s shut the revolving door.”

Nemes added: “If you’ve committed two violent acts against somebody, you should go to prison for a long time, perhaps the rest of your life. Three’s certainly enough. What about the fourth victim? We’re trying to reduce victims.”

The state has significantly increased the number of drug treatment beds, trying to tackle an underlying cause for crime, and more efforts will be forthcoming to overcome drug addiction, Nemes said.

“But this bill is about better identifying those who are going to commit violence against us, finding them and putting them in jail for a long time,” Nemes said.

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