Neal files bill to amend Kentucky’s hate crime laws

Kentucky State Senator Gerald Neal, D-33 | Courtesy

Kentucky State Sen. Gerald Neal has pre-filed a bill for the 2019 legislative session that would rewrite Kentucky’s hate crime statutes in part to include criminal penalties.

The proposed legislation, BR 357, would also include language designating homicide under the umbrella of actions that could be prosecuted as a hate crime.

Neal, a Democrat who has long represented Louisville’s 33rd state senate district, said that the bill is a direct response to the shooting death of two African-Americans at a Jeffersontown Kroger last month, according to a news release from the state Legislative Research Commission.

Gregory Allen Bush has been charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder as well as wanton endangerment. He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment after a grand jury indicted him in early November.

The FBI, which operates under federal hate crime definitions that include homicide, has investigated the case against Bush as a hate crime, but because Kentucky’s extant hate crime statutes don’t include murder as a qualifier, Neal is seeking to update the law.

“The current hate crimes legislation in Kentucky is useless. It provides no appropriate response to this insidious form of violence that targets people because of their racial, religious, ethnic, or other identified group affiliations. We are called upon to correct this,” Neal said in the LRC release.

Neal’s bill, filed with the LRC on Nov. 29, would repeal the existing hate crimes statute and replace it with one that carries criminal penalties for offenders. It would incorporate pre-existing offenses as well as adding new ones, like homicide, and it would, among other things: Set imprisonment to 10 years or more as a baseline sentencing penalty; reclassify hate crimes under the violent offender statute; and automatically deny parole to convicted individuals until 85 percent of their sentence has been served.

The bill also retains designations from the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, which includes police, firefighters and emergency services personnel as protected classes against whom acts of violence can be prosecuted as hate crimes. Gov. Matt Bevin signed that bill into law last year.

“A person is guilty of a hate crime if he or she is convicted of or pleads guilty to the commission of, or an attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit an offense specified in this subsection intentionally … because of a person’s actual or perceived employment as a state, city, county, or federal peace officer, member of an organized fire department, or emergency medical services personnel,” BR 357 reads.

As of publication time, no legislators have signed on to co-sponsor Neal’s bill.