Recommended changes to the state penal code — including an increase in the dollar amount of what constitutes felony theft — and the state’s drug laws proposed by committees of the Kentucky Criminal Justice Council were shared Monday with a legislative subcommittee.
The proposals, which are intended to reduce the state’s growing prison population, could lead to legislative changes in the next regular legislative session beginning in January. However, they must first be approved by the Council later this month and delivered to Gov. Steve Beshear by Dec. 1.
Some of the recommendations shared today with the legislative Subcommittee on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act by the Council’s Penal Code Committee Chairman Chris Cohron included applying a statute of limitations on certain Class D and C felonies (with an exemption for sex offenses), increasing the threshold for felony theft from $300 to a larger amount, grading thefts based on severity of the crime, making DUI a felony after a third rather than a fourth offense and improving aid to county jails, among others.
Cohron said reimbursing counties for the 30 to 60 days that inmates spend in jail awaiting sentencing would help. Another way to impact the jail system, said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown, is to waive pre-sentence investigations upon agreement of the parties.
“It would help us meet our already statutorily imposed guidelines of moving inmates within 45 days, rather than having them sit in the jail post-conviction and wait,” Brown said.
Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, who asked if the committees’ recommendations were in line with laws in other states, said “I agree that these do seem to be good common sense recommendations.”
The subcommittee then heard recommendations for changes to the state’s drug law statutes. Drug cases, explained Cohron, are a major drain on the justice system.
“The biggest issue we’re dealing with are all these drug cases,” he said. “If we can get to them quickly before they reoffend, that can save them…before they get disenfranchised from society.”
One change to the state drug laws that were recommended include passing a “drugged driver” law (proposed in previous legislative sessions) that would make driving under the influence of a controlled substance without a prescription a “per se” or clear offense. Other proposals could change laws that determine proximity to public and private places by drug offenders, and alter some penalties.
“I’m not going to hold out that this is a comprehensive review of the penal code top to bottom,” Brown told subcommittee co-chairman Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, and the rest of the subcommittee. “(But) we can at least show the public that we are addressing the issues.”