Poll Finds ‘Remarkable’ Consensus Among Kentuckians in Favor of Criminal Justice Reform

From Stephenie Hoelscher, Stephenie.hoelscher@outlook.com

Majority of Kentucky Voters Support Removing Barriers that Make it More Difficult for Former Offenders to Find Jobs; Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition Working to Ease Reentry into Society at State Level

FRANKFORT, Ky. (February 17, 2016) – A poll of Kentucky voters released Wednesday finds broad, bipartisan support for reforming the criminal justice system, affirming the efforts by the Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition to remove barriers that make it more difficult for former offenders to find jobs and re-enter society.

The Tarrance Group, on behalf of the U.S. Justice Action Network, conducted a survey of voters in six states, including likely voters in Kentucky, revealing voter attitudes toward criminal justice reform. A majority of voters in every age group and both political parties agreed that the government spends too much money to imprison nonviolent offenders, that the main goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitating offenders, and that barriers that make it difficult for former offenders to find jobs should be removed.

The U.S. Justice Action Network is a broad, bipartisan coalition working to reform the criminal justice system at the national level. Responses to this survey were gathered January 19-21. The margin of error is ± 4.5 percent.

“The pollsters say the amount of consensus on re-entry and criminal justice reform is remarkable given the partisan political climate we are in today,” Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition spokesman Russell Coleman said. “Of course, given the consensus that exists among the diverse groups represented in our coalition, this only confirms what we already knew. Kentuckians of all stripes are ready for common-sense reforms that will save tax dollars, make our communities safer and help our economy.

Coleman said he is especially heartened by the percentage of voters who support removing barriers that make it difficult for former offenders to find jobs. Fifty-five percent of Kentucky Republicans and 66 percent of Kentucky Democrats surveyed believe those barriers should be removed.

“This viewpoint is why the coalition’s main priority during the ongoing legislative session is to establish a process by which qualifying former offenders who have served their time can have their records expunged,” Coleman said.

The coalition consists of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Council of Churches, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

 To learn more about the coalition, visit www.kysmartoncrime.com or follow us on social media.

My First Day at the Capital

by Jamil Grimes, KCC field education student


     I should begin this with a confession. I have never been to a state capital before. As a youth, I never took the school field trip to the statehouse; and despite a lengthy career in law enforcement, limited political involvement never led me to sitting across a table from my state representative. Instead, news and popular media have mostly informed my understanding of politics. My visit to the Kentucky State Capital in Frankfort was both corrective and informative.

     Interim Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Peggy Hinds, and I braved the wintry conditions and arrived at the Capitol's annex building, which houses the offices of Senate and House personnel. We located a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, but the bills on the agenda were outside the scope of our visit. We determined that our time would be better spent walking the halls and preparing for a morning meeting with Senator Paul Hornback.

     We went downstairs to the cafeteria, which functions as a meeting place for legislative agents, advocates and the like. It is worth mentioning how any visit to the cafeteria can disclose sudden shifts in the legislative landscape: a nascent bill you should know about, or a position change of a legislator who is no longer firm on casting a critical vote. It may seem trivial, but making yourself available where this information is shared enables you to respond in the moment and be a timely voice for the organization you represent.

     After a brief stay in the cafeteria, Peggy and I entered Senator Hornback's office. The senator seemed genuinely curious about the views of the Kentucky Council of Churches and patiently articulated his own, while honestly acknowledging the differences. The conversation covered a number of important issues: e.g., the death penalty, expungement, immigration and payday lending. To our pleasure, Senator Hornback expressed reservations about the reliability of state-execution and, later, his belief that some persons with felony convictions deserve a second chance at life with a clean record. It was encouraging to see how civil discourse - something often absent from politics - can reveal common ground in unexpected places.

     Peggy and I left Senator Hornback's office and later tried getting meetings with other legislators. Sadly, with the Capitol closed the next day, schedules were full. However, we left knowing more about this session's agenda and pleased to have had the opportunity to speak for the Council.

Here's my one take-away from the visit: 

     Advocacy work at the Capital is done best with a sustained presence. Yes, there are planned appointments and meetings, but there are also many helpful introductions and conversations that happen on the fly. Being able to take advantage of these spontaneous moments often means hanging around until something happens.


     P.S. Before we left the Capital, Peggy and I took a selfie with Kentucky's own President Abraham Lincoln. As a Licolnite, this was definitely a personal highlight. I hope that you've seen it!

Message from Senator Reginald Thomas


Several weeks ago I participated in a survey sent by Senator Reginald Thomas. I was impressed that he made the effort to survey his constituency prior to the legislative session, which began this week. I received another email yesterday giving the results of that survey. He has given me permission to share his email with you. (below)

Today I attended a press conference on expungement sponsored by the KY Chamber of Commerce. I have posted pictures and a video on our social media sites - check them out.  Peace, Peggy

From Senator Thomas:

Dear Friend,

Today marks the first day of the 2016 Legislative Session and I have already hit the ground running. I anticipate this will be a lively session. Work is underway on one of the most important duties of legislators – passing a two-year budget for the commonwealth. I anticipate this 150th regular session will be quite interesting as we also address many other pressing issues that will require much thought and debate.

I have already asked for your input on some of the topics that we will look at this session in my end-of-the-year questionnaire. Thank you for your responses. I was pleased to hear back from so many of you. For me, that signifies that you are engaged in the process and are committed to seeing Kentucky move forward. Your input is very important and I am very grateful that you took the time to share your thoughts with me.

This questionnaire indicates there is overwhelming support for such actions as capping payday lending interest rates, implementing a statewide smoking ban and legalizing medical marijuana. There were mixed responses on a local option sales tax and taxation of services.

The Legislative Research Commission compiled a report that will allow me to reference your responses on these topics anytime there is discussion or a possible vote in a committee hearing or on the Senate floor. As I have told you before, it is very helpful to me to have your input as we determine public policy.

During the session, I will keep you informed on the progress of these issues. I would also like to share with you the results of my questionnaire (below).

Questionnaire Results

1.      Would you support legislation that would prevent schools from starting classes earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 if it included a waiver for districts missing large amounts of days because of inclement weather? Yes – 41% No – 31 % Unsure -- 27% No answer 1 %

  1. Do you support legislation that would allow a school board to include a high school student on superintendent screening committees? Yes -- 66%   No -- 20%   Unsure -- 13%   No Answer -- 1%
  2. With the growing trend of ziplines, should the Department of Agriculture be required to establish requirements and standards for the operation of commercial recreational ziplines in the state? Yes -- 81%   No -- 7%   Unsure -- 11%   No Answer -- 1%
  3. Should the General Assembly enact legislation amending the Kentucky Constitution to allow local governments to impose a local option sales tax? Yes -- 39%   No -- 35%   Unsure -- 24%   No Answer -- 2%.
  4. Despite many changes in our revenue needs and the fundamentals of our economy, our current tax system has been mostly unchanged since the 1950s.  Would you support reforms to modernize our tax code if it also generated additional revenue? Yes -- 81%    No -- 7%   Unsure -- 9%   No Answer -- 3%

6.      Do you support raising the state minimum wage? Yes -- 76%    No -- 15%   Unsure -- 7%   No Answer -- 2%

7.      Do you support requiring school resource or school security officers to have basic training provided by the Department of Criminal Justice Training? Yes -- 81%    No -- 5%   Unsure -- 10%   No Answer -- 4%

8.      Do you support exempting persons, officials, and institutions with religious objections to same-sex marriage from any requirement to solemnize or to issue or record licenses for such marriages? Yes -- 23%    No -- 71%   Unsure -- 5%   No Answer -- 1%

9.      Kentucky is one of two southern states that opted to expand Medicaid and establish a state exchange website. Observers credit Kynect with insuring 15 percent of the state’s population.  Kentucky had the highest decrease in the country in uninsured residents at 5.8 percent.  Do you support dismantling Kynect? Yes -- 12%    No – 76 %   Unsure – 10 %   No Answer – 2 %

10.  To improve access to the polls by members of our military, do you favor allowing military voters to return their completed ballots via e-mail? Yes -- 71%    No -- 14%   Unsure -- 13%   No Answer -- 2%

11.  Should the General Assembly allow for the expanded use of public-private partnerships in the construction of infrastructure projects? Yes -- 48%    No -- 12%   Unsure -- 39%   No Answer -- 1%

12.  Currently, the unlawful trafficking in synthetic drugs is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense, and second and additional offenses are punishable as a Class D felony.  Do you support toughening the penalty for unlawful trafficking in synthetic drugs, making it a Class D felony punishable by one to five years in prison? Yes -- 50%    No -- 27%   Unsure -- 21%   No Answer -- 2%

13.  Should non-violent felons have their voting rights automatically restored after they have served their sentences? Yes -- 81%    No -- 10%   Unsure -- 7%   No Answer -- 2%

14.  Do you support a statewide smoking ban in public places? Yes -- 87%    No -- 8%   Unsure -- 3%   No Answer -- 2%

15.  Should electronic cigarettes be included in a smoking ban? Yes -- 69%    No -- 16%   Unsure -- 13%   No Answer -- 2%

16.  Do you favor allowing the people of Kentucky to vote on a constitutional amendment concerning expanded gaming in Kentucky? Yes -- 77%    No -- 11%   Unsure -- 10%   No Answer -- 2%

17.  If tax modernization requires a change in the state’s sales or income taxes, would you support expanding the base to include services (such as dry cleaning and physician fees) rather than increasing sales or income tax rates? Yes -- 34%    No -- 36%   Unsure -- 28%   No Answer -- 2%

18.  Do you support legislation that would permit public money to be used for public charter schools that would be granted special permits to operate outside usual state regulations?  Yes -- 20%    No -- 58%   Unsure -- 20%   No Answer -- 2%

19.  There has been research showing that marijuana has positive medical benefits for patients dealing with illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS.  Do you support legislation that would make marijuana a Schedule II drug thus legal for doctors to prescribe?  Yes -- 81%    No -- 9%   Unsure -- 9%   No Answer -- 1%

20.  Many Kentuckians get into a debt trap by misusing payday lending services.  Do you support capping the interest rates these lenders can charge and imposing penalties for violating the caps? Yes -- 93%    No -- 3%   Unsure -- 3%   No Answer -- 1%

21.  Do you support a three-day sales and use tax holiday during the first weekend in August each year to exempt clothing, school supplies, school art supplies, computers, and school computer supplies? Yes -- 61%    No -- 22%   Unsure -- 14%   No Answer -- 3%

22.  Should the General Assembly establish a regulatory structure for the manufacture and use of drones? Yes -- 69%    No -- 10%   Unsure -- 18%   No Answer -- 3%

Of course, many other issues large and small will arise before this 60-day session concludes. To help me do that work, I encourage you to stay in contact. The General Assembly has a number of ways for you to stay informed.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page (www.lrc.ky.gov) provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including our phone numbers, addresses, and legislative committee assignments. The home page also provides summaries and texts of bills, as well as information on the progress each bill has made through the legislative process.


Reflections on my First Day at the Capitol

I arrived on Capitol grounds early (10:30 am) to give myself time to learn my way around before the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) gathering. It turned out to be a good idea because I had to go to the business office to get my ID badge. Lesson one: don't try to get your badge on the first day of the Legislative session. They moved the office from the Capitol basement to the Annex building. Fortunately, I got to the correct office before a lot of other people. I had to wait only about 20 minutes. The line was out the door and down the hall when I left.

The KFTC gathering was so crowded that people lined the walls and stood in the hallway. There were folks from all over KY with many different issues of interest. We heard from Representative Kelly Flood and Senators Gerald Neal and Morgan McGarvey. Rep. Flood encouraged optimism, and spoke in support of sustainable and earth-friendly energy. The Senators took questions on various topics including voter rights, tax reform, and budget. Senator Neal also expressed his concern about the proposed methane treatment facility in West Louisville.KFTC Rally in the Rotunda

After lunch, KFTC held a rally in the Rotunda. Again, the room was overflowing and the noise level was deafening. There were speakers from several organizations covering topics like ecology, workers' rights, mininum wage, and tax reform.

I ran into Nancy Jo Kemper at the rally. While talking in the hallway, she introduced me to several key people including Senators and lobbyist. Chris Sanders, who served as Interim Coordinator of the KBF, was also there. They both send their regards to their KCC friends.

The day ended with a KY Smart on Crime Coalition meeting with Rep. Brent Yonts. We put finishing touches on a proposal that he will be filing. The proposal is an act relating to crimes and punishments. More details to come later. 

It was a good first day, and I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the Council as your legislative advocate. Come back to this blog for more updates throughout the legislative session.