FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill intended to prosecute more Kentucky teenagers on gun-related felony charges in adult courts where they could face harsher penalties moved closer Tuesday to clearing the legislature.
The bill passed the House on a 68-19 vote and now returns to the Senate, where it could receive a final vote if senators accept the changes made by the House. Senate Bill 20 is part of a broader push by the Republican-dominated legislature to toughen penalties for a range of crimes.
The vote came as lawmakers took action on stacks of legislation ahead of their extended break starting Friday to give Gov. Andy Beshear time to decide whether to sign or veto bills sent to him. The biggest task still awaiting lawmakers is to pass the next two-year state budget.
A bill gaining momentum Tuesday would establish a new government corporation to regulate parimutuel wagering in the state that’s home to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The proposed Kentucky Horse Racing and Gaming Corp. also would oversee sports betting and charitable gaming.
The measure, sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, won Senate passage Tuesday to advance to the House. Under Senate Bill 299, members of the current state horse racing commission would be retained to serve two-year terms as members of the new corporation’s board.
Future members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The corporation would replace the horse racing commission.
Under the juvenile-related bill, youths would be transferred to circuit court for trial as adults when charged with serious felony offenses and if they used a gun when allegedly committing the crime. It would apply to youths 15 years old and up.
During the House debate, Republican Rep. Patrick Flannery said the bill would improve public safety.
“I think it’s very important to realize that while we use terms like ‘youthful offenders, teenagers,’ we are talking about very violent criminals, regardless of their age, that are using a firearm to kill others, to permanently injure others,” Flannery said.
The measure would roll back a criminal-justice policy enacted three years ago in Kentucky.
At that time, lawmakers ended the automatic transfer of youths from juvenile court to circuit court in certain cases. Judges now have to hold a hearing to determine whether a transfer is appropriate based on evidence. Once in circuit court, teens can face the same penalties as adults, including prison. Under the new bill, teens convicted in circuit court would be held in a facility for juveniles until turning 18.
Democratic Rep. Lindsey Burke argued against the policy rollback.
“Here we are three years later, going back to a presumption that teenagers ought to be punished to the full extent of the law, with very limited consideration of how we might rehabilitate them rather than punishing them,” Burke said.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Republican state Sen. Matthew Deneen, has said the changes would ensure that “the time fits the crime” for gun-related offenses committed by teens. Deneen has said that many of the victims of teen gun violence are other teens.
Lawmakers still face two long days on Wednesday and Thursday before reaching a crucial deadline at the start of their break. Republicans have to pass bills by Thursday to retain their ability to override any gubernatorial vetoes when they reconvene for their final two days of the legislative session in mid-April.