Cost-saving corrections reform legislation introduced with Chamber support

A bill to reclassify some Class D felonies by creating a new misdemeanor category was announced Tuesday by Rep. Brent Yonts alongside the Kentucky Chamber and other groups.

Yonts said the bill creates a new misdemeanor category, gross misdemeanor, which includes three types of low-level, non-violent, non-sexual offenses that are currently classified as Class D felonies including Flagrant Non-Support, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument II and Forgery II.

At the press conference Tuesday, Yonts said the legislation could save the state around $21 million.

“The bill that will be filed this afternoon involving criminal law will be a way to free up some dollars that will go to the general fund, it will help corrections, it will potentially help prosecutors, defense council, pensions, all across the board,” Yonts said.

Yonts said the cost savings from the bill would come from the reduction in sentence length for the offenses proposed in the bill, changing them from 1-5 years to 12-24 months. As for what the offenses are, Yonts stated that the Class D felonies up for reclassification normally have to do with bad checks, unpaid child support and others but none involve sex crimes and all are non-violent.

The legislation also sets up presumptive parole, presumptive probation and other changes.

With a focus on cost savings, Yonts said the legislation is a continuation of previous measures such House Bill 463 and Senate Bill 200, which worked to tackle justice reform and are projected to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Acting Vice President of Public Affairs Ashli Watts spoke at the press conference alongside Yonts, expressing the Chamber’s support for cutting down on corrections costs—a priority of the business community outlined in the 2009 “Leaky Bucket” report.

“In that report, we realized Kentucky’s corrections budget was growing much faster than total state government spending,” Watts said. “The Chamber is really interested in this because of state spending. The business community contributes approximately 40% of all state tax revenue. And every dollar that we spend on prisons is less money for state programs that have a much more positive effect like education.”

Others joining the Chamber in support of the corrections reform measure included the Kentucky County Judges Association, Kentucky Magistrates Association, ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and others.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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