March 18, 1998
Senate Judiciary Committee
Let me begin by thanking you for your hard work and the spirit of cooperation thats marked this legislative session. Much work remains to be done but Im confident thisll be remembered as a productive session of the General Assembly. You have before you a landmark piece of legislation, the first major piece of criminal justice legislation in a quarter of a century. Many parts of this bill are a product of input from members of the General Assembly and the Criminal Justice Response Team I commissioned last year to study comprehensively our justice system. With this bill, weve tried to strike a balance, getting tough on violent criminals, while recognizing that many of them need treatment if theyre going to stay out of prison. Theres a focus on a statewide program of juvenile detention, and development of locally based prevention and early intervention programs for juveniles. Weve reached out to victims of crime in unprecedented ways, providing for an improved system of crime victim compensation and the right to speak out in court. Weve created a victim-witness protection program for victims whose safetys in danger as a result of cooperating with the police and prosecutors and provided that victims of mentally ill violent criminals will receive notification when those offenders are released from involuntary commitment. Weve proposed that all law enforcement officers, the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day, will be trained and recognized as the professionals they are through the process of certification and improved compensation. We prepare our criminal justice system for the 21st Century with information technology to link law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, the courts and corrections so that these criminal justice agencies will have accurate, real time access to information critical to the performance of their jobs. The bill codifies pretrial diversion and makes it uniform throughout the state, so our prosecutors can turn around people whove made mistakes but can be set back on the path of law-abiding citizens. And, it creates the Criminal Justice Council which will have representatives of all three branches of government for comprehensive and ongoing study of crime in Kentucky, and long-term planning so we can respond with deliberation to the problems of crime that emerge in our state. But there are two important pieces of this bill that I want to place additional focus on today: Ethnic intimidation and gang crime. Crimes of hatred should not be tolerated in Kentucky. When a crime is committed because the criminal doesnt like the color of the victims skin, or place of birth, something worse than a crime has been committed. The fundamental basis of our country, the rights that our ancestors fought and died for, are assaulted. A burning cross or a church burned because of racial hatred is not a simple arson or criminal mischief case. We need to send the message that crime committed in the name of bigotry and intolerance strikes at the fiber of our society and will be punished to the maximum extent possible. The ethnic intimidation portions of this bill are the product of an exhaustive study by a Task Force I appointed in 1996 chaired by Attorney General Chandler. This group, composed of members of the state and federal law enforcement community and the church community, recommended this legislation in the wake of the church burnings and other acts of racial hatred that occurred in 1995 and 1996. I urge you to follow the lead of Congress and many other states and endorse these new penalties for crimes of ethnic intimidation .We must also acknowledge that gangs are taking a bigger and bigger toll in Kentucky. We could stick our heads in the sand, deny that theres a problem, claim that gangs are only an urban issue, and complain that anti-gang measures target minority communities. The truth is that gangs exist throughout the state, their numbers are growing and their members and victims are racially diverse. By far, most of their victims are children recruited for membership or punished for refusing to join a gang. And let me tell you I know from personal experience there are gangs in Pikeville and as with many cases, our familys not immune from it. Make no mistake: this is not an issue of race; it is an issue of drugs. Unless we have the fortitude to stand and deliver, to acknowledge the problems and to give prosecutors the tools they need to address gang crime now, the blame will rest on our shoulders. We elect our prosecutors to protect society from criminals. We should heed their calls to enact strong anti-gang legislation so that all children can wait at the bus stop without fear of assault because their shirts are the wrong color, they dont throw gang signs or they wont join the gang. We have the power and the responsibility to do something about this problem now, before it becomes an unmanageable statewide problem. We wont have this chance, the chance to make changes in our laws for the protection of our children and of our citizens, for another 2 years. For every victim of ethnic intimidation, for every victim of gang-related crime, 2 years is too long to wait. For many, who may be victims of gang violence it will be too late. Help me and help our citizens and law enforcement address these problems by passing the strong crime bill which we have submitted for your consideration.