Kentucky Politics

Kentuckians who have some serious mental illnesses won’t be subject to the death penalty under a bill that passed out of the state House of Representatives on Wednesday. The measure now heads to the state Senate, which hasn’t supported similar proposals in recent years.

Under House Bill 269, people who have been diagnosed by a mental health professional with at least one of four serious illnesses could not be sentenced to execution.

Rep. Chad McCoy, a Republican from Bardstown and sponsor of the bill, said he would be in favor of totally eliminating the death penalty in Kentucky, but this is a first step.

“Just want to be clear, there is absolutely no way that folks get away with committing the crime. They still go to jail for life without the possibility of parole. All we’re doing is removing the death penalty portion,” McCoy said.

The death penalty ban would apply to people diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or delusional disorder.

The measure would remove execution as a possible punishment for people who have active symptoms of those mental illnesses at the time of an offense, as long as they were previously diagnosed by a provider.

A similar proposal passed out of the House last year but was never taken up in the Senate

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a Democrat from Louisville, said she wished the bill went further, but voted in favor of it.

“I fully support this bill, and the only feedback I’ve gotten from constituents is why don’t we ban the death penalty altogether?” Bojanowski said.

The bill passed out of the House with a vote of 76-19 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Though Kentucky has handed down 82 death sentences since 1975, only three people have been executed during that period, according to a report sponsored by the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The last execution was in 2008.

According to the report, of those 82 death sentences imposed, 41 have been reversed.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.