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Marsy's Law Ruling

Marsy's Law Ruling

Yesterday, October 15, the Franklin Circuit Court issued its ruling in the legal challenge by the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to SB3 (2018), known widely as Marsy’s Law. The Court determined that the ballot question for this constitutional amendment addressing victims’ rights is unconstitutional. I profoundly disagree with this determination, and will seek transfer of the inevitable appeal directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court. As the sponsor of SB 3, I have worked tirelessly to elevate the voice of crime victims within the criminal justice system as a constitutional right, and I am steadfastly committed to this cause regardless of today’s ruling. I remain confident that SB 3 will be incorporated into the Kentucky Constitution by the voters of the Commonwealth.

These are the key takeaways to keep in mind:

  1. The ruling is being appealed; the notice of appeal was filed today.

  2. Marsy’s Law WILL STILL be on the ballot in November and we still NEED YOUR VOTE!

  3. The Judge’s ruling expressly allows for the Secretary of State to still count the ballots in support of Marsy’s Law. This was done to allow for the orderly appeal process in which we are now engaged.

  4. Our fight to ensure crime victims the rights and respect they deserve continues stronger than ever!

  5. For more information about Marsy’s Law, FAQ, endorsements and news releases, please visit

  6. A misleading narrative keeps popping up that Marsy’s Law will weaken the presumption of innocence. This is FALSE. In fact, the proposed amendment specifically includes language that clearly states “Nothing in this section shall afford the victim party status, or be construed as altering the presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system.” (SB3, p.2, Lines 7-8)

You can find PDF’s of my statement, the Franklin Circuit Court’s ruling and the full text of Marsy’s Law below. Stay up to date on the case by bookmarking this site, or by following on Twitter and Facebook (linked below). I’ll keep updates posted as I have them.

We Should Ban Child Marriage

We Should Ban Child Marriage

A bill proposed by Sen. Julie Raque Adams that would provide court oversight on petitions for a marriage license for 17 year-olds (SB48), is set for a second hearing in my committee tomorrow morning, and I plan to call the bill for a vote.

After working with Donna Pollard (Survivors' Corner) and the Family Foundation we have arrived at an amendment to the bill the requires parental consent, but critically requires a court to review the petition to prevent the same kind of abuse that Donna Pollard experienced as a child.

Contrary to what was believed by so many on social media, the bill sponsor and I worked together on this amendment and the bill was never not going to be heard.  I said as much after our first hearing on the bill back in February.  I’m looking forward to seeing it pass committee in the morning and then hopefully be voted on the Senate floor soon thereafter.

For those asking, the amendment (known as a “proposed senate substitute”) is attached below.

The Road to Amendment

The Road to Amendment

This post was originally published in the Kentucky New Era, January 29, 2018.

October 2015 was a significant month for public policy in Kentucky.  The Interim Joint Judiciary Committee made its appearance in Hopkinsville, and it was at this meeting that I heard the testimony from West Powell that changed my mind about felony expungement.  As you read this, Kentucky now has a felony expungement statute for the benefit of convicts who’ve turned their lives around.  But few people know that was also a red-letter day for victims, as it was the first meeting I had regarding Marsy’s Law.

John Tilley and I hung around the City Council chambers after the rest of the committee members left and we heard the story about Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas for the first time.  I left the meeting excited about the idea of creating Constitutional protections for crime victims, and my work to do so began in earnest.

I filed SB175 in 2016, and the amendment was debated in committee before eventually passing the Senate with only a single no-vote.  The bill passed the committee vote in the House before being stopped at the one-yard-line because of politics.  I was told at the time by the former Speaker that the leadership liked the bill but “we want to work on it,” which was an unmistakable euphemism for “we don’t like that its your bill.”  I went back to the drawing board.

I continued to advocate for the bill in the interim of 2016, and had the opportunity to work with the former state representative from Greenup County, who had previously also served as a judge.  He proposed a two-bill approach: the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation to spell out some of the finer details.  I liked the idea, and it stuck.

In 2017 I filed the bill again, believing we had a solid draft ready to move forward.  But we were foiled again, this time by Senate and House leadership who elected not to advance any constitutional amendments.  This was disappointing, but I pushed ahead, undaunted.

Senate Bill 3 completes criminal justice reform — reduce reoffending by putting a real face to the crime: the victim’s.

I continued to hear questions from stakeholder groups, usually asking “what if” questions, the kind we often had to look outside of Kentucky to states with Marsy’s Law already on the books to answer.  Dozens of drafts were written and revised.  Hundreds of emails were bounced around, testing phrasing, sentence structure and calibrating the core set of victims’ rights based on case law, other states’ experiences and importantly, tailored it to fit Kentucky’s justice system.  The bill was presented again to different interim committees, for questions and feedback.  By the time 2017 was drawing to a close we believed we were ready for 2018, and the hope to get the bill passed this year was the greatest it had been.  If we failed to pass Marsy’s Law this year, it would mean a delay of two more years before another ballot for a constitutional amendment would come around.

January 2, 2018, the first day of session, I filed SB3 and SB30, the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation, respectively.  Marsy’s Law had the support of nearly two dozen co-sponsors, from the right and the left, from the east and the west, and from rural and urban legislators.  We continued to meet with legislators who had questions and soon believed we had enough support to move forward.  SB3 was heard in committee on January 10, where it passed unanimously.  Later that same afternoon, in a strong statement of support for Marsy’s Law, Senate leadership advanced SB3 to the floor for a vote, making it the first to pass through the Senate in 2018.

The strong support did not stop there, as the House leadership promptly referred Marsy’s Law to committee and then to the floor where it passed with an overwhelming majority on January 24.  A day later, the bill was officially received by the Secretary of State, its last procedural step before voters get their say in November.

Our voices, and the voices of victims and survivors across Kentucky, were heard resoundingly in Frankfort.  Not only was Marsy’s Law the first bill to pass the Senate in 2018, it was the first bill to pass the House too, making a bold, bipartisan statement by the General Assembly that victims shall no longer be treated as mere witnesses to crimes, but should be recognized and granted fundamental rights to empower them and restore their dignity in a criminal justice system that for too long has ignored them!

Sponsoring Marsy’s Law, fighting for its passage and seeing it succeed, has been a highlight of my time in Frankfort.  But now we begin the work to educate the voters of Kentucky.  I look forward to November when we can stand shoulder to shoulder across Kentucky knowing we’ve made a lasting, historic stand for victims — giving constitutional strength to their voices for the first time.

Race to the Bottom

Race to the Bottom

I'm deeply discouraged by the announcement of Churchill Downs and Keeneland today regarding their plans for a racetrack in Oak Grove.  As I have been since I first ran for the Senate, I am staunchly opposed to gaming – it is a regressive tax, targeting the middle and lower income earners, and in this case, the military families that live in and around Christian County, many of whom already live on meager salaries.

I believe gaming is bad for the area and the rest of the Commonwealth, and the opening of a racetrack, while adding a few jobs and bringing in some revenue, comes at too steep a price for the community.

Unfortunately, I don't have a vote on this in the legislature, but it is my sincere hope the racing commission denies their application for a license.  If I have any influence on the project I hope that I can stop it.  I'm for all the jobs and economic development we can find for Christian, Todd and Logan counties (and the rest of Kentucky), but not from gambling.  I wish there was a way to help Kentucky’s signature Thoroughbred industry thrive without it.

Sen. Westerfield Named Co-Chair

Sen. Westerfield Named Co-Chair

Earlier this year, the National Conference of State Legislatures named me, along with a colleague from the Nebraska Senate, as Co-Chair of a newly formed Juvenile Justice Principles Working Group.  My Co-Chair and I have been working with NCSL staff over the last few months to prepare for the group's upcoming meetings this year.  We aim to produce a report, or white paper of sorts, to guide states looking at reforming their juvenile justice systems.  Here's my release about the news:

For Immediate Release
Contact: John Cox


FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 5, 2017) – State Senator Whitney Westerfield was recently appointed as co-chairman to the newly-established Juvenile Justice Principles Working Group, a subset of the National Conference of State Legislature’s (NCSL) Law, Criminal Justice And Public Safety Committee.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
— Frederick Douglass

According to NCSL, the purpose of the juvenile justice work group is to discuss and develop a set of principles of effective juvenile justice state policy that NCSL will publish as a report to guide policy review and reform in the states. The report is intended to identify policy-making strategies that are rooted in research, reflect bipartisan/nonpartisan values, and help states invest in proven methods to put justice-involved youth back on the right track, while also keeping communities safe.  The principles and report will be an important tool that state lawmakers can apply both now and well into the future.

Senator Westerfield, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a member of both the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council and Governor Matt Bevin’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, thanked NCSL for the appointment. “Our work in the juvenile justice system here in Kentucky has set a national standard, giving a template for several other states to follow, yet we still have so much to do to improve outcomes for youth and improve public safety,” said Senator Westerfield. “I thank NCSL for this opportunity and I look forward to bringing my experience to the table, working with many dedicated men and women from across the United States to shape policy that will help our children in Kentucky and across the country.”

The Juvenile Justice Principles Working Group’s first meeting is June 6-8. Senator Westerfield championed Kentucky's comprehensive juvenile justice reform in 2014, and the Commonwealth's 2017 criminal justice reform law, Senate Bill 120, and will be presiding at two of the conference’s meetings. Those meetings will focus on juvenile justice research and data and juvenile justice reform, both for which Senator Westerfield has been an advocate in Kentucky.

The National Conference of State Legislatures was established in 1975 and is a bipartisan, non-governmental organization dedicated to the success of state legislatures. NCSL has three main objectives: improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures; promote policy innovation and communication among state legislatures; and ensure state legislatures have a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system.