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Legal Reform Questions As General Assembly Resumes

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A proposal to make sweeping changes to Kentucky’s criminal code might be slowing down in response to criticism from law enforcement and local governments. The bill is part of a reform effort to reduce the state’s prison costs and keep people out of jail.

Among many other things, the bill would eliminate the requirement for cash bail and raise the monetary threshold for theft and not paying child support to be considered felonies.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover said he’s heard a lot of pushback from law enforcement associations and county officials.

“It may be that we are better served if we allow that bill to be vetted maybe over the summer and fall in public hearings and bring everyone that’s affected,” he said.

The bill, which hasn’t been finalized yet, is the product of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, made up of state officials, lawmakers and policy advocates.

At a hearing last week, county officials said they were worried that the changes would shift caseloads from state courts to county courts.

A final version of the bill could be filed this week.

State lawmakers are also still tweaking the “medical review panels” bill that would change how Kentuckians sue over medical malpractice incidents.

The bill would require claims to be vetted by a panel of health care providers to would weigh in on whether the suit is “frivolous,” and its conclusion would be admitted as an expert opinion in court.

Hoover said he had concerns over “separation of powers issues.”

“I don’t think we can determine what’s expert opinion," he said. "I think that’s ultimately up to the trial judge or the trier of fact. So that’s the language we’re working on.”

Supporters say medical review panels reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and lower health care costs. Opponents say they add extra costs and make it harder for plaintiffs to win the cases.

The bill has passed out of the Republican-led Senate for years, but was blocked by Democrats when they controlled the House.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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