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Safer Kentucky Act

Guests discuss the Safer Kentucky Act proposed during the 2024 General Assembly. Guests: State Rep. Jared Bauman (R-Louisville), sponsor of the Safer Kentucky Act; State Rep. Keturah Herron (D-Louisville); Ryan Straw from the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police; Kungu Njuguna from ACLU of Kentucky; George Eklund from Coalition for the Homeless; and State Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Middletown).
Season 30 Episode 36 Length 56:33 Premiere: 01/22/24

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Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis of major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw.

For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions in real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form. Viewers with questions and comments may send an email to kytonight@ket.org or use the contact form. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 800-494-7605.

After the broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on KET.org and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

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Renee Shaw is the Director of Public Affairs and Moderator at KET, currently serving as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition, the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight, the weekly interview series Connections, Election coverage and KET Forums.

Since 2001, Renee has been the producing force behind KET’s legislative coverage that has been recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include a daily news and information program, Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, townhall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

Renee has also earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with three regional Emmy awards. In 2023, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the NATAS, one of the industry’s highest honors recognizing television professionals with distinguished service in broadcast journalism for 25 years or more.  

Already an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2017), Renee expands her hall of fame status with induction into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in November of 2023.  

In February of 2023, Renee graced the front cover of Kentucky Living magazine with a centerfold story on her 25 years of service at KET and even longer commitment to public media journalism. 

In addition to honors from various educational, civic, and community organizations, Renee has earned top honors from the Associated Press and has twice been recognized by Mental Health America for her years-long dedication to examining issues of mental health and opioid addiction.  

In 2022, she was honored with Women Leading Kentucky’s Governor Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award recognizing her trailblazing path and inspiring dedication to elevating important issues across Kentucky.   

In 2018, she co-produced and moderated a 6-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. 

She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; and was recognized as a “Kentucky Trailblazer” by the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration during the Wendell H. Ford Lecture Series in 2019. That same year, Shaw was named by The Kentucky Gazette’s inaugural recognition of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government.  

Renee was bestowed the 2021 Berea College Service Award and was named “Unapologetic Woman of the Year” in 2021 by the Community Action Council.   

In 2015, she received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault & human trafficking. In 2014, Renee was awarded the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the KY Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform. Two Kentucky governors, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Andy Beshear, have commissioned Renee as a Kentucky Colonel for noteworthy accomplishments and service to community, state, and nation.  

A former adjunct media writing professor at Georgetown College, Renee traveled to Cambodia in 2003 to help train emerging journalists on reporting on critical health issues as part of an exchange program at Western Kentucky University. And, she has enterprised stories for national media outlets, the PBS NewsHour and Public News Service.  

Shaw is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Kentucky, a board member of CASA of Lexington, and a longtime member of the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of women of color committed to volunteer service. She has served on the boards of the Kentucky Historical Society, Lexington Minority Business Expo, and the Board of Governors for the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Panelists Discuss Wide-Ranging Legislation Under Consideration in 2024 General Assembly

Three weeks into the 2024 General Assembly session, a sweeping anti-crime measure is already generating fierce debate over its potential impacts.

Sponsors say House Bill 5, known as the Safer Kentucky Act, will promote public security and protection in the commonwealth at a time when violent crime is a growing concern for many Kentuckians. But opponents fear the legislation could actually lead to more violence, make homelessness a crime, and tax an already overburdened criminal justice system in the state.

The 72-page bill addresses a range of criminal conduct:

• It institutes a three-strikes provision that would require a life sentence in prison without the possibility of probation or parole for those convicted of three violent felonies.

• Toughens punishment for knowingly selling drugs laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl that lead to an overdose death.

• Creates a criminal statute on carjacking and makes it a Class B felony.

• Restricts charitable bail organizations from providing bail amounts of more than $5,000 or providing bail of any amount for those charged with violent crimes.

• Creates a new offense of “unlawful camping” to make it illegal to sleep outside or in cars in public areas.

• Enhances penalties for drive-by shootings, attempted murder, vandalism, fleeing or evading police. intentional murder of a first responder, and adults who use children to commit a crime.

• Gives business owners greater latitude to use reasonable force to prevent suspected shoplifters from escaping.

State Rep. Jared Bauman (R-Louisville), who is primary sponsor of HB 5, says he and his GOP colleagues spent nine months crafting the legislation with bipartisan input. He contends that tackling crime is critical to generating prosperity in the commonwealth.

“It is the foundation on which we will build a thriving economy,” says Bauman. “It is the foundation on which we will support the Kentucky family, achieve success in education, and generally achieve a high quality of life in our state.”

Even though some communities have experienced recent spikes in criminal activity, Rep. Keturah Herron, a Louisville Democrat, says violent crime in the United States has decreased over the past decade. Instead of creating more crimes and tougher penalties, she argues state lawmakers should address the root causes of crime, including economic insecurity and poor education, and fix existing flaws in the criminal justice system.

“I definitely think that the state legislature has a huge responsibility to make sure that we’re making everyone safe, Herron says. “I don’t believe that this is a piece of legislation that is going to make us safe.”

Reducing Crime by Tackling Homelessness

An increase in unhoused individuals in Metro Louisville has led to more crime and hurt business and tourism in the city, according to Bauman. He says research indicates that a homeless person is 500 times more likely to commit a crime than someone with stable housing. Yet he says lawmakers are sympathetic to the plight of the unhoused.

“Being homeless or being unsheltered is not a crime in the state of Kentucky today,” says Bauman. “Being homeless or being unsheltered will not be a crime after we pass House Bill 5.”

Unlawful camping would become a Class B misdemeanor on the second and subsequent offenses though. Homeless individuals could be fined up to $250 and jailed for up to 90 days.

“How does it help them to subject them to arrest and to fines that we know they can’t pay?” says Kungu Njuguna, policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky.

Under the measure, private property owners would have greater leeway to use force to remove a vagrant who is trespassing on their land or at their place of business.

George Eklund from Coalition for the Homeless in Louisville says the homeless provisions in the legislation are cruel and unnecessary. He says existing laws already allow for someone to be charged with loitering, menacing, or blocking public passageways.

“We have the tools already on the books,” Eklund says. “I don’t see the need to have an additional charge laid on them that is going to create a new barrier for us to move people into housing.”

In Metro Louisville alone, about 1,600 people can be homeless on any given night, according to Eklund. He says that includes people fleeing domestic violence situations, children, and military veterans as well as individuals battling addiction or severe mental illness. Because the problem is so large and diverse, and because so few shelter beds are available, Eklund contends a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

HB 5 does say local government can designate specific areas for temporary camping by homeless people, which should include potable water and toilet facilities. Co-sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Middletown) says the goal is to get the unhoused the services or treatment that they need to get back on their feet. But for some people, he argues, that will require the threat of a criminal charge or fine to do achieve that.

“I don’t think this is cruel, I think this is humane,” says Nemes. “What is cruel is allowing all these people, especially the young kids... to camp out all over the community.”

But incentivizing treatment for substance abuse or mental illness does not guarantee an unhoused person can actually get it, according to Njuguna. He says it’s great that Kentucky has so many treatment beds – more per capita than any state in the nation – but he also says accessing them depends on whether facilities in the area have open beds, whether people have transportation to get there, and whether the facility will take Medicaid or your insurance coverage. Even if those obstacles can be overcome, Njuguna says success still depends on the support network available to an individual once they leave treatment.

Herron says she fears the homeless provisions in HB 5 will be exacerbated by House Bill 18, a proposal that would allow landlords to decline to rent to low-income individuals who pay with Section 8 vouchers or other federal housing assistance.

Fentanyl Provision and Other Components of the Legislation

Opponents of HB 5 also have concerns about the provision that would make it a felony to knowingly sell an illicit drug laced with fentanyl that leads to a fatal overdose. Njuguna, who is recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, says he fears people who share their own drugs with someone else and don’t specifically know they may contain fentanyl will face felony charges. He contends solely focusing on fentanyl without more treatment options won’t fix the problems of addiction in the commonwealth.

Nemes says this provision is meant to punish dealers and traffickers seeking financial gain from the sale of a drug they know contains fentanyl, not an individual user who does not know about the presence of fentanyl in the drug they are sharing with a fellow user. He also says it does not conflict with the state’s Good Samaritan law, which shields people who provide emergency assistance to those in need from liability.

From the perspective of law enforcement, Ryan Straw, vice president and chair of government affairs of the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police, says police officers risk a lethal fentanyl exposure by simply assisting someone experiencing an overdose.

“We want to get you the help, but this stuff is so dangerous,” says Straw. “You’re asking us to be compassionate about something that could kill us.”

Straw also says policemen and women go out of their way to help people, even paying out of their own pockets to get someone some food or a room for the night. He says law enforcement personnel are eager for more tools to address any criminal activity, whether that’s illegal drugs, homelessness, or violent crimes.

“Our cops are overwhelmed, we need help, and this bill helps,” says Straw. “We support this bill completely.”

HB 5 also calls for an evaluation of reentry programs so that funding can be directed to initiatives that successfully help people return to productive lives after incarceration. Njuguna applauds another provision that would provide personal identification cards to people as they leave county jails, which could help a former offender secure housing or employment. But Njuguna says the emphasis on tougher punishments and more jail time will not result in less crime. He says if that were the case, there would be no need for a Safer Kentucky Act given all the anti-crime laws already on the books.

“Everybody wants a safe Kentucky and a prosperous Kentucky but... you can’t incarcerate your way to prosperity,” says Njuguna. “We know that enhanced penalties, new crimes do not make us safer, they don’t deter crime... Let’s talk about the things that truly make us safe, which is investing in people and in communities.”

Nemes says corrections is only about 5 percent of the state budget and that lawmakers spend far more public employee pensions, Medicaid, and other public services. He the legislation will continue to evolve as it moves through the House and Senate. The Republican says state government must not fail to protect Kentuckians from dangerous criminals.

“We’re not trying to incarcerate ourselves out of this,” Nemes says. But he adds, “If they keep committing violations of the law, especially violent violations of the law, we have to do something to get them off the streets, out of our neighborhoods to protect our people.”

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Season 30 Episodes

Reviewing the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E44 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/15/24

Final Negotiations on the State Budget

S30 E43 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/25/24

School Safety

S30 E42 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/11/24

Early Childhood Education

S30 E41 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/26/24

Abortion Legislation

S30 E40 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/19/24

School Choice and Education Issues

S30 E39 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/12/24

State Budget Discussion

S30 E38 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/05/24

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Higher Education

S30 E37 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/29/24

Safer Kentucky Act

S30 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/22/24

Legislative Priorities in the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E35 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/08/24

Governor Andy Beshear's Budget Address

S30 E34 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 12/18/23

2024 Legislative Preview: Part Two

S30 E33 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 12/04/23

2024 Legislative Preview

S30 E32 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 11/20/23

Analysts Discuss What to Expect on Election Day 2023

S30 E31 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/06/23

Candidate Conversations: Lieutenant Governor

S30 E30 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/30/23

Candidate Conversations: Governor

S30 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/23/23

Political Analysts Forecast the 2023 General Election

S30 E28 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/17/23

Secretary of State; Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E27 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/09/23

Auditor of Public Accounts; State Treasurer

S30 E26 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/02/23

Kentucky's Economy, Jobs and Taxes

S30 E25 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/25/23

Higher Education in Kentucky

S30 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/18/23

Kentucky's Health Care Challenges

S30 E23 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/11/23

Education Issues in Kentucky

S30 E22 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/21/23

Fancy Farm Preview and Kentucky Politics

S30 E21 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/31/23

Kentucky's Energy Needs

S30 E20 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/17/23

Artificial Intelligence

S30 E19 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/10/23

Jobs, Inflation and the Economy

S30 E18 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/26/23

SB 150 and LGBTQ Issues

S30 E17 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/19/23

Horse Racing Safety

S30 E16 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 06/12/23

A Discussion of Gun Laws

S30 E15 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/05/23

Recapping The 2023 Kentucky Primary

S30 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/22/23

2023 Primary Election Preview

S30 E13 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/15/23

Republican Candidate for Secretary of State

S30 E12 Length 15:00 Premiere Date 05/08/23

Republican Candidates for Governor

S30 E11 Length 1:29:20 Premiere Date 05/01/23

Candidates for Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E10 Length 1:15:06 Premiere Date 04/24/23

Challenges Facing Kentucky Schools

S30 E9 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/17/23

Policy Analysts Recap the 2023 General Assembly

S30 E8 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 04/10/23

Recap of the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E7 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/03/23

Kentucky Legislation on LGBTQ+ Youth

S30 E6 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 03/20/23

Student Discipline Legislation

S30 E5 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/13/23

Gambling Proposals in the Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E4 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/27/23

Kentucky's Teacher Shortage

S30 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/20/23

Exploring Local Government Issues

S30 E2 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 02/13/23

Child Abuse and Neglect in Kentucky

S30 E1 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/06/23

See All Episodes

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