Kentucky Politics

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing a bill to strengthen Kentucky’s hate crime law.

The legislation comes in reaction to the killings of two Black people at a Jeffersontown Kroger in 2018.

The alleged shooter, Gregory Bush, is facing state murder charges and federal hate crime charges. Kentucky’s hate crime law doesn’t currently apply to murder.

The new proposal would improve on the current law, according to Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville.

“It’s got teeth in it, it has the ability to render justice in this situation and to send a strong signal to our community that we do not condone or accept hate in our community,” Neal said.

Kentucky’s current hate crime law only applies to some offenses, like rape, assault, kidnapping, arson and rioting.

During the sentencing process, a court can enhance penalties if it’s proven that the crime was committed based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

The new bill would add murder as a possible hate crime and increase penalties for other offenses. Class A or B misdemeanors would be increased by at least half of the maximum imprisonment sentence and fine that currently exist.

Class D felonies would increase prison terms by one to five years, Class C felonies would increase by 5 to 10 years and Class A and B felonies would increase by 10 to 20 years.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville, said it’s appropriate to take up the bill after months of protests over racial justice.

“I think it’s fantastic we are having this conversation. We’ve had months and months of social unrest and racial unrest, and I think people want to see something happen,” Raque Adams said.

The lawmakers unveiled the bill in Louisville on Friday along with family members of Vickie Jones and Maurice Stallard, who were killed at the Jeffersontown Kroger in 2018.

Kellie Watson, the daughter of Stallard, said stronger policies are needed to protect victims of hate crimes.

“You know with everything that you see within our city and within this country today. It leaves me feeling sad and tired and frustrated and overwhelmed,” Watson said.

“But at the same time I’m also hopeful and faithful that maybe this will lead to something different, and this legislation can be the beginning of that.”

The last time Kentucky’s hate crime law was altered was in 2017, when the legislature voted to make targeting a law enforcement officer a hate crime.

The next legislative session begins in January.

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