Frankfort 2014: Voting rights, pipelines, and DNA

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Once again the Kentucky Legislature is in session.  In keeping with tradition of “Februarys” past, this article looks to make a quick list of key pending pieces of legislation and look at what we can do as citizens to stop the bad bills and support the good bills. 

Of course, you’ll have to make your own determination regarding what constitutes “good” or “bad.”

Senate Bill 14 (SB 14) and House Bill 60 (HB 60) are bills of specific interest to Nelson County residents.

These concurrent bills filed by Sen. Jimmy Higdon and Rep. David Floyd respond to concerns about the Bluegrass Pipeline. This bill would restrict eminent domain to government rather than private entities.

Dealing with voting rights, another set of concurrent bills (SB 15 and HB 70) would allow voters a chance to amend the state constitution to “allow persons convicted of a felony other than treason, intentional killing, a sex crime, or bribery the right to vote after expiration of probation.” 

In other words, the constitutional amendment, if ratified, would restore voting rights to nonviolent offenders.

Failed legislation from last year has been drafted (HB 172 and HB 271) that would allow for DNA collection upon arrest (not conviction).

Opponents argue that we are deemed innocent until proven guilty and have said this legislation would be a violation of our Fourth Amendment Right to privacy in addition to a violation of our Fifth Amendment Right to be free of self-incrimination.  Supporters would argue that no such violation exists because last year the U.S. Supreme Court — by a 5-4 vote — upheld a similar Maryland law that allows law enforcement to collect DNA.

Another proposed constitutional amendment, House Bill 158 (HB 158), would abolish the office of constable — sort of. 

A provision would allow local legislatures such as fiscal courts to determine if constables are suitable for its county. 

Supporters of this amendment point to local control and an “outdated” era of law enforcement. 

The opposition points to counties that successfully use the office efficiently to save taxpayer money by providing additional law enforcement services (more than 500 officers statewide).

Other notable bills include a bi-partisan effort to repeal Kentucky’s death penalty (HB 330/SB 77), dating violence (HB 8), and a move to legalize medical marijuana in the form of cannabis oil (SB 124).

It’s easy to take action to support or oppose any of the currently pending legislation. Call the Legislative Research Commission hotline at 1-800-372-7181. A polite operator will ask for your name and contact information. Tell the operator that you would like to leave a message with your state representative and state senator.

We must be as informed as possible — especially on the state and local levels — and offer our input to legislators. Most of us aren’t citizen activists.

Many of us are too busy working and taking care of our families — or simply feel that our voices aren’t heard by our political leaders. The opposite is true. Legislators often listen and place value on our input.

Read and research the referenced bills and hundreds more at lrc.ky.gov.