FRANKFORT (WXIX) – The controversial Safer Kentucky Act is moving to the Senate floor after the majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill.

In a 7-3 vote, House Bill 5 won the approval of the committee on Thursday.

Senators Karen Berg (D-26) and Gerald Neal (D-33), the only two Democrats on the 10-person committee, voted against the bill, alongside a surprising nay vote from the Republican Committee Chair, Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-3).

Sen. Westerfield says he will explain his no vote when the bill hits the Senate floor.

Over 25 amendments were submitted when House Bill 5 hit the House Floor earlier this year. Kentucky Democrats and statewide organizations stand firm in their belief that the omnibus legislation will do more harm than good.

“House Bill 5 is not grounded in facts or data, nor is it representative of the issues in Kentucky or what Kentuckians are facing and that’s not right,” Rep. Keturah Herron (D-42) said during a press conference prior to the committee hearing. “This bill will have a negative impact on Kentuckians for several generations. When you ask Kentuckians what is needed to address public safety and violence, this bill is not it. What Kentuckians are asking for is laws to deal with safe storage and they’re asking for laws to deal with background checks.”

On Thursday, the Democratic Caucus held a press conference, going over the possible negative impacts H.B. 5 could have on Kentuckians.

Create an influx of people into prisons and jails, which are maintained with taxpayer dollars.
Jail workers are overwhelmed already by the number of people incarcerated, therefore inmates will not get the adequate services they need.
Kentuckians need more affordable housing, but H.B. 5 invests in jail housing.
Since there is no mention of additional resources for the homeless community or organizations, then more unsheltered people and families will end up in jail or with a stack of fines that they cannot pay.

Danielle Amrine, CEO of Welcome House, says the bill is “deeply detrimental” to the unhoused community, especially for those in Northern Kentucky.

“In most counties that we serve across Kentucky, there is no shelter infrastructure at all. How can we expect individuals to comply with House Bill 5 when they have nowhere to go?” She said.

Since starting Welcome House, Amrine and her employees have seen the first-hand impact of homelessness, which oftentimes forces families with children to sleep in cars.

“It is crucial to understand that homelessness is the failure of systems, not human beings,” Amrine explained. “Our current housing market resembles a game of musical chairs, where those with the least resources are left without a seat when the music stops. House Bill 5 does nothing to address affordable housing. Instead, it penalizes those who have already lost out, those without a seat in an incredibly tight housing market.”

Several proponents of H.B. 5 spoke at the committee hearing on Thursday.

Kentucky organizations, such as the state Fraternal Order of Police, have been vocal about their support for the Safer Kentucky Act, which would also work to get repeat violent offenders stricter sentences.

“Law enforcement, by no means, is going out and looking to arrest individuals [for no reason],” Vice President of the Kentucky FOP Ryan Straw said about homeless concerns. Instead, he wants to see individuals get the treatment they need and put an end to the crime he says is spiraling out of control.

Lawyers and prosecutors across the state, like Ronnie Bowling with the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, say they are in support of the crime portion of the bill, specifically violent crimes like attempted murder.

According to Bowling, attempted murder is not considered a violent crime under Kentucky’s criminal law. This, in addition to the three strikes provision and harsher punishment for harming first responders, is something he wants to see change with the Safer Kentucky Act.

The Senate will convene at 2 p.m. Thursday to possibly hear more on H.B. 5.

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