Criminal Justice Bills Passed This Session

As the session began, many were hopeful that the legislature was poised to pass criminal justice reforms that would make a meaningful impact in reducing the state’s growing inmate population, associated corrections costs and high rates of recidivism. So where did we end up?

Here are the criminal justice bills that passed:

First steps to improve reeentry. Senate Bill 120 is the bill coming out of the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC) appointed by the governor. Rather than a broader reform package, the bill takes some first steps toward promoting successful reentry into the community after incarceration. Included in the bill are: reforms that make it possible for workers with records to receive occupational licenses in some cases; provisions that prevent inmates owing large fines or court costs to be incarcerated if they truly can’t afford to pay; the authorization of day reporting programs and reentry centers; and more work opportunities for inmates while incarcerated. The bill does not include “big ticket” criminal justice reforms such as overhauling the state’s Persistent Felony Offender (PFO) law or raising the felony thresholds for theft, fraud and failing to pay child support; at the same time, the bill comes with some additional costs — for instance, by not allowing offenders who violate their supervision to become immediately eligible for Mandatory Reentry Supervision. This means on net the bill does not do much to reduce corrections costs at least in the short term.

Juvenile expungement. Senate Bill 195 enables a person with a juvenile criminal record to petition for the expungement of a felony conviction received as a juvenile. As with the expungement legislation that passed last year that applies to adults, SB 195 would limit felony expungement eligibility to a single non-violent and non-sexual felony or a series of felonies from a single incident. An offender could be eligible for expungement of a juvenile record if he or she had no new offense within two years after completing their sentence.

Increased charges for heroin and fentanyl trafficking. House Bill 333 increases charges for heroin or fentanyl trafficking in small amounts. The legislation makes the transfer of any amount of heroin or fentanyl a Class C felony with a sentence of 5 to 10 years and no parole eligibility until half of the sentence is served. Currently the transfer of under two grams of these drugs is a Class D felony with a one to five year sentence for the first offense — and parole eligibility after serving 20 percent of the sentence. It is notable that those convicted of trafficking these small amounts of drugs will not qualify for the work programs in SB 120.

Due to the very broad definition of trafficking in Kentucky, an addict sharing drugs with another (with no exchange of money) could be arrested for trafficking; as a result, we can expect the legislation to lead to increased charges and therefore longer sentences for addicts. The legislation is expected to have a significant impact on corrections costs, more than the $30 to $35 million estimate for a similar bill earlier in the session. At the same time, more incarceration is a highly questionable approach to addressing addiction problems in communities. Among other provisions, the bill also limits Schedule II pain prescriptions to a three-day supply except for those with certain conditions.

Other bills related to criminal justice.

  • House Bill 14 designates some crimes committed against police officers as hate crimes even though there are already enhanced penalties for crimes committed against officers. The bill is expected to have a minimal fiscal impact, although it “may impact denial of community supervision and length of incarceration sentences for misdemeanor offenses.”
  • House Bill 222 prohibits shock probation in cases of conviction of a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge in combination with Manslaughter 2nd degree, Reckless Homicide, Fetal Homicide 3rd or 4th Degree. Those committing these crimes will therefore spend more time incarcerated than they would under the current law. The fiscal impact of this bill is expected to be minimal, but depends on how many people it ends up applying to.
  • House Bill 329 establishes penalties for security fraud based on the amount of the fraud. There is no fiscal analysis available for this bill.
  • Senate Bill 42 allows a peace officer to make an arrest that occurs anywhere on hospital property — including a parking lot or parking garage. This bill is not expected to have any fiscal impact.

What it all means

Criminal justice reform remains a serious need for Kentucky. The state’s inmate population (and corrections budget) has continued to grow in part because of limited use of parole for even low risk offenders and high rates of recidivism. Reforms to reduce incarceration in Kentucky would not only address high corrections costs but also the racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system and improve the lives of Kentucky kids who have incarcerated parents.

Despite the momentum behind criminal justice reform going into the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly, little was done this session to address Kentucky’s growing inmate population and associated costs. While a couple of bills passed that take initial steps to improve reentry and contribute to reductions in recidivism in the long term, other bills passed that will take the state backward by increasing incarceration and related costs. We are in many ways worse off at the close of the session than when it started.

Meanwhile, our corrections costs have continued to rise. It was recently reported that the corrections budget is expected to be $35 million above projections this year — and that’s on top of $89.6 million over the past 5 years in extra money needed due to the state’s inmate population being above projections. In addition, some of these bills will not only increase corrections costs but could further strain the Department of Public Advocacy — where caseloads are already at unmanageable levels.

Tuition Increase Ceilings Announced

Today the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) announced the maximum in-state undergraduate tuition and mandatory fee increases the state’s public universities and community colleges will be allowed to charge students in the coming year. These tuition caps range from zero at the University of Louisville (at their request) to five percent at four of the state’s comprehensive institutions. In the coming months, the higher education institutions will decide how much to increase tuition and fees within these limits. While college affordability is widely understood to be a serious challenge in Kentucky, years of state budget cuts to higher education have resulted in continued tuition increases.

Tuition Setting Process

CPE is responsible for setting ceilings for how much tuition can increase at the state’s public universities and community colleges. Here are the caps approved at today’s CPE meeting:

  • University of Louisville – 0 percent (CPE would have authorized a 4 percent cap, but UL opted for no increase)
  • Western Kentucky University – 3 percent
  • Kentucky Community and Technical College System – 3.9 percent
  • Northern Kentucky University and University of Kentucky – 4 percent
  • Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky State, Morehead and Murray State universities – 5 percent

The dollar amounts for these tuition ceilings can be found here.

In order to determine the appropriate tuition ceilings, CPE’s Tuition Development Work Group considered a number of factors — including out-of-pocket costs in each sector for students who receive grants or scholarships, expected upcoming increases in mandatory contributions to the state pension system (that apply to all but UL and UK, which do not participate in the Kentucky Employees Retirement System) other fixed cost increases and what the market may be able to bear in terms of tuition increases. The work group also took into consideration that NKU and WKU are slated to receive additional appropriations in 2018 to address disparities in the allocation of state funds among the comprehensive institutions. The work group’s recommendations were adopted at today’s CPE meeting.

Last year’s tuition and fee ceilings were 5 percent for UL and UK, a “common dollar increase” ceiling of $432 for the comprehensive universities (between a 4.65 percent and a 5.87 percent increase, depending on the institution) and a $9 per credit hour ceiling for KCTCS (about a 6.1 percent increase).

Now that these caps have been set, the postsecondary institutions will decide exactly how much they plan to increase tuition within these limits; these decisions typically end up pretty close to the ceilings.

Why Tuition Keeps Going Up

The tuition increases currently under consideration are largely the result of state budget cuts to higher education over the years. As seen in the graph below, the state share of total public funds in the state’s public postsecondary institutions decreased from 71 percent in 2002 to just 44 percent in 2016. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky ranks sixth worst in the nation in (inflation-adjusted) per-student funding cuts since 2008. In total, the state’s public universities and community colleges have had their budget cut by 30 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms since 2008; that’s a $374 million difference.

Source: Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. State share is the net General Fund appropriation divided by total public funds. Student share is the net tuition and fee revenue divided by total public funds.

In order to make up for some of the losses in state funding for higher education, tuition and fees have increased between 42.6 percent (KCTCS) and 64.0 percent (UL) since 2008. Meanwhile, even after raising tuition the state’s public postsecondary institutions are unable to cover all of their costs. This is in part due to the growth in fixed costs at the institutions, like health insurance and utilities, on top of state General Fund cuts. As seen in the graph below from CPE, the cumulative increase in revenue collected from tuition and fees does not cover the cumulative growth in costs plus the cuts in General Fund dollars to the institutions.

Even with tuition increases, the universities and community colleges reported in September 2016 they had cut a total of 980 positions and 56 programs in response to recent state budget cuts.

Despite the thoughtfulness of the Tuition Development Work Group and the tough spot the state’s public universities and community colleges are in, these tuition increases will make college out of reach for even more Kentuckians. Low-income and minority students are already less likely to enroll and graduate, face more financial difficulties even when they attend community college and receive Pell grants and more frequently take out additional loans to pay for college. The state’s new Work Ready scholarship will help a relatively small number of community college students, by covering tuition and fees for those earning degrees in certain fields, but our state needs greater investment in all aspects of higher education in order to reach its goals — including funding for public universities and community colleges as well as state need-based financial aid.

State Leaders Float The Idea Of A Constitutional Convention

3-Day Pain Pill Limit Heads to Gov. Bevin

New Version of Drug Bill Would Have Serious Consequences for Addicts and Criminal Justice System

A new version of House Bill 333 passed the Senate Judiciary committee late last night. The bill contains very consequential changes for Kentuckians struggling with addiction, as well as the state’s criminal justice system.

An earlier version of HB 333 increased penalties for fentanyl trafficking in very small amounts — any amount under two grams. However, these penalties would not apply if a person could prove that he/she had a substance abuse problem at the time of the offense. This provision was important because the state’s definition of trafficking is so broad that one addict handing another addict a small amount of the drug would be considered trafficking.

As we noted previously, these approaches to Kentucky’s devastating drug problems are not effective ways to address these issues and are very costly to the state (particularly legislation that includes increased penalties for heroin trafficking). Prior to the amendments that would somewhat mitigate the impact on addicts, HB 333 was expected to cost the state $4 million. A similar bill, Senate Bill 14, that included both heroin and fentanyl, however, was expected to costs the state between $30 and $35 million.

The new version of HB 333 that passed Senate Judiciary last night and will be considered on  the last day of the session not only adds increased penalties for heroin (where previously it focused on fentanyl), it takes out the provision that could enable addicts to avoid the increased penalties. This means that a person who transfers any amount of heroin or fentanyl to another person will be charged with a Class C felony with a 5 to 10 year sentence and not be eligible for parole until half of their sentence is served. Currently an addict caught sharing under two grams of these drugs in this way would be charged with a Class D felony with a 1 to 5 year sentence, with parole eligibility after serving 20 percent of the sentence (for a first offense).

Not only would the new version of HB 333 lock up more addicts for longer periods of time and be ineffective in addressing the state’s addiction problems, it would be very costly for the already overburdened criminal justice system . The bill would have costs even greater than the fiscal estimate for SB 14 of $30 to $35 million (as that analysis assumed those trafficking in amounts under 2 grams would still qualify for parole after serving 20 percent of their sentence). Meanwhile, the state’s inmate population has been growing and the corrections system budget is expected to be $35 million over projections this year — and this is on top of $89.6 million over the past five years in extra money needed due to the state’s inmate population being over projections.

The new version of HB 333 would send our state in the wrong direction with criminal justice issues, which is especially disappointing given the momentum for reforms at the beginning of the legislative session with the governor-appointed Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC) — and the small steps forward for reentry in Senate Bill 120, which received final passage yesterday.

Eastern Kentucky Would Be Hardest Hit Place in Country by Job Loss from ACA Repeal, Report Says

The House proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) died last Friday, but House leaders say they hope to regroup and try again. Kentucky and especially eastern Kentucky would experience major job loss if the House ends up passing legislation like it considered last week, according to a report released in the midst of the debate.

Stripping away the Medicaid expansion, capping traditional Medicaid funding and rolling back the marketplace subsidies would cost jobs by taking federal dollars out of doctors’ offices, hospitals and local economies. The analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) using the specifics from the now-failed ACA repeal bill estimates that Kentucky would face potential loss of more than 85,000 jobs from the bill by 2022 – 2.2 percent of all jobs in the state. This constitutes the biggest share of state-wide job losses of any state but New Mexico.

EPI’s analysis also breaks down the potential job losses by congressional district. At over 20,000 jobs, the 5th district in eastern Kentucky, represented in Congress by Hal Rogers, would lose more jobs than any other district in the country. The number of potential lost jobs for the 5th district is approximately double the 10,000 coal jobs eastern Kentucky has lost since 2011. That scale of lost jobs would be crushing for a region that already has the 6th-highest poverty rate of all 435 congressional districts.

It’s also worth noting that Kentucky’s 1st congressional district in western Kentucky, represented by James Comer, would potentially lose the 8th largest number of jobs among the nation’s districts.


The Affordable Care Act resulted in billions of federal dollars flowing in Kentucky, especially through the Medicaid expansion. That not only cut our uninsured rate in more than half, but created jobs and boosted our economy. All of that plus the real health and economic security gains Kentuckians are experiencing would be at risk if Washington revives a repeal effort. Kentucky, and especially eastern Kentucky, would be the epicenter of the harm.

A County-by-County Look at Kentucky’s Dramatic Drop in Uninsured

According to new data from the Census Small Area Health Insurance Estimates, Kentucky’s rate of uninsured residents under 65 years old dropped from 16.8 in 2013 to 7.1 percent in 2015, a 9.7 percentage point drop. All 120 counties saw a decline in their uninsured residents:

While eastern Kentucky counties largely saw a greater portion of county residents covered through the Medicaid expansion, the counties that most drastically cut their uninsured rates were fairly spread out across the commonwealth. While the Affordable Care Act played the main role in reducing the number of Kentuckians uninsured, an improving economy also helped. As might be expected, Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton and Warren counties saw the largest number decline in uninsured. But when looking at the percentage point decline, a different, rural set of counties saw the most progress:

  • Todd (15.8 percentage point decline)
  • Casey (13.9 percentage point decline)
  • Green (13.6 percentage point decline)
  • Menifee (13.5 percentage point decline)
  • Nicholas (13.4 percentage point decline)

The ACA brought coverage to roughly half a million Kentuckians through Medicaid expansion and insurance policies purchased on our exchange. This rapid growth in coverage has led to people using preventative and other care that improves health. Every part of our commonwealth has benefited from greater coverage, and we should build on that success, not move backward through cuts to Medicaid and repeal of the ACA or by making harmful changes to our healthcare system here in Kentucky.

Money Model: Performance-based Funding Would Harm WKU

Kentucky Tonight: Affordable Care Act

Statement on Failure of Health Law Repeal

Statement by Jason Bailey, KCEP executive director, on the failure of health repeal in the House of Representatives:

“Today is a great day for the health of Kentuckians and the economy of the Commonwealth in the failure of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the US House of Representatives. Kentucky gained more from the ACA than any other state, and would have more to lose from its repeal. The legislation under consideration would have given large tax cuts to millionaires while resulting in lost coverage for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians. It would have set back progress on fighting Kentucky’s opioid crisis, reduced access to preventive care, driven up insurance costs and eliminated jobs in doctors’ offices and hospitals.

It is now time for Kentucky’s state and federal leaders to abandon inaccurate attacks on the law. They should turn their attention to further strengthening the foundation created by the ACA of expanded coverage, greater affordability and improved health.”