Public safety is one of the most important responsibilities of government. During the 2020 Regular Session, my colleagues and I made public safety a top priority. We approved several measures aimed at protecting our most vulnerable, many of which became effective July 15.
One of our top priorities this session was House Bill 2, the result of a collaborative effort with Attorney General Daniel Cameron and other stakeholders to build public awareness of human trafficking, make resources available to victims, enable the prosecution of offenders and close a loophole in current law to help prevent future instances.
Human trafficking is a major issue across the United States. According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community, and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality.
Kentucky is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of our nation’s population and an all-too convenient and centralized hub for human trafficking. The provisions of HB 2 clarify that law enforcement can pose as a potential victim – a highly successful tool in identifying and prosecuting human traffickers.
HB 2 also requires individuals convicted of sex-related adult human trafficking to be added to the sex offender registry. Existing law already requires that offenders in crimes involving children are added.
The new law also requires that signage with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline phone number and other information about resources available to victims of human trafficking be posted in public restrooms at airports, bus stops, train stations and truck stops.
In addition to our work on human trafficking, here are a few other public safety measures we approved:
• HB 44: Tampering with the operations of natural gas or petroleum pipelines is now a Class D felony offense of first-degree criminal mischief. It also allows civil action against anyone who directs or causes a person to commit the offense. This action is specifically designed to allow for public protest but prevent dangerous damage.
• HB 204: Registered sex offenders are now prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of a publicly leased playground and from being on the grounds of leased playgrounds. This prohibition already exists for public playgrounds but did not apply to leased property. I am extremely grateful that my colleagues understand how important it was to pass this legislation into law.
• HB 256: Until we approved this bill, someone convicted of a rape that resulted in the birth of a child could still seek custody or visitation of that child. Without a doubt this was a loophole that we had to fix, and we did so by adding comparable offenses from other jurisdictions to the category of felony sex offenses that will deny person custody and visitation rights to a child born from an assault.
• HB 361: Overcrowding in our prisons is a major state and national problem. It can lead to several issues such as poor health care for inmates, an increase in violence and gang activity, an increase in individual mental health issues, the spread of disease and staff stress. We needed a common sense approach to find a solution for this issue. HB 361 creates a framework that allows the Department of Corrections to transfer state prisoners to another jail or prison with an open capacity if the jail is at or over 150% capacity.
I hope to continue providing you updates through this column. As always, I can still be reached through the toll-free message line; if you have any comments or questions, just call 800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Chris.Freeland@lrc.ky.gov. You can also keep track of the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov.