Kentucky Politics

Kentucky lawmakers revived a bill limiting no-knock warrants on the last day of the legislative session.

Senate Bill 4 falls short of what people protesting the death of Breonna Taylor have been calling for — a total ban on no-knocks. Taylor was shot and killed last March during a middle-of-the-night raid authorized by a no-knock warrant. Police officers were attempting to conduct a search related to a broader narcotics raid.

Rep. John Blanton, a Republican from Salyersville who helped write the final version of the bill, said it’s a compromise that will make people safer.

“Nobody got everything they wanted, but everybody got a little something. But I don’t feel like we changed the purpose for what we’re trying to do here,” said Blanton, a former state trooper.

Under the latest version of the bill, no-knock warrants will only be allowed in cases involving alleged violent crime and other emergency situations.

Officers seeking no-knock warrants will be required to get more approval from supervisors and other officials. And searches will be required to take place between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and conducted by specially-trained police like SWAT teams using body cameras.

The bill was amended on Tuesday to allow counties with populations less than 90,000 to not use SWAT teams and use audio recorders instead of body cameras.

The final version also requires emergency medical services to be on site when warrants are executed.

Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from Louisville who sponsored Breonna’s Law For Kentucky, a measure totally banning no-knock warrants, voted in favor of the bill, but said it doesn’t go far enough.

“SB 4 is not Breonna’s Law. It falls short of the people’s demands and is another example of performative politics. It gets us closer to justice, but this ain’t it. I voted Yes because daughters like mine deserve a chance to live without wondering if they will be next,” Scott wrote in a statement.

The measure passed out of the House with a vote of 95-5 and the Senate with a vote of 34-0. It now heads to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk.

During a heated debate, Republican Rep. Chris Fugate, a former state trooper and pastor from Chavies, questioned the need to restrict no-knock warrants and criticized racial justice protests in Louisville last year.

“As I looked at those things going on in Louisville those nights, I didn’t see bad police officers or bad people, I saw a broken society,” Fugate said. “We began a downhill slide in society and now we’re seeing it in the way people are.”

Rep. Pamela Stevenson, a Democrat from Louisville who is Black, responded sharply to Fugate’s speech.

“Don’t you dare ever propose to know what it’s like to be less than, what it’s like to be in a country that disowns you, what it’s like to be lynched, what it’s like to be raped, what it’s like to be nothing,” Stevenson said.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Democrat from Louisville, voted against the bill, saying it doesn’t address problems in police departments in his hometown and beyond.

“I cannot go home and talk to my brothers and my sisters and say that we’ve done something that’s going to help save lives. Because every one of them continues to be under threat of a police department that is out of control,” Meeks said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.