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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.

Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

Over the course of the 2017 interim period a bipartisan working group of House members met several times to hear from stakeholder groups about issues related to Kentucky’s adoption and foster care processes.  I was fortunate to “audit” some of those meetings as an interested member of the Senate.  When the 2018 session began the working group’s end product became House Bill 1, which ultimately passed one vote short of unanimously.

HB1 contained a number of critical changes to the child welfare process for foster care and adoption, including imposing new timelines and restrictions to prevent cases from lingering overlong on court dockets and getting stranded in the inboxes of the state’s bureaucracy.  The bill also creates a new Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee and I am honored to be named as a member by the Senate President:

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Office of Senator Whitney Westerfield

For Immediate ReleaseJune 8, 2018

Contact: John Cox


Senate President Stivers appoints Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield to the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 8, 2018) – Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers announced Thursday the appointment of Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) to the  Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee. The newly-formed committee was created in statute with the recent passage of House Bill 1 from the 2018 Legislative Session.

House Bill (HB) 1 gives more rights to foster parents by cutting red tape and reducing regulatory burdens associated with adopting a child in Kentucky. The Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee was created by HB 1 to review, analyze, and provide oversight on child welfare, including but not limited to foster care, adoption, and child abuse, neglect, and dependency.

“As an adoptive parent, I understand the challenges and anxieties associated with Kentucky’s adoption process,” Senator Westerfield said. “I look forward to applying my experience in the courtroom and as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to the child welfare process where too often children fall through the cracks. I was proud to carry House Bill 1 in the Senate, I am proud to serve on this committee, and I am anxious to get to work to further improve our adoption and foster care programs in the Commonwealth.”

A meeting schedule for the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee is expected to be announced in the near future. For more information on the committee, please visit For the full text of HB 1, please visit


Pensions Update

Pensions Update

Click here to visit for more information.

Click here to visit for more information.

Bringing about a flurry of facts and a storm of misconceptions, Kentucky’s pension crisis has become one of the most dominating news stories in recent months. One thing is for certain: if our state pensions are not addressed in the very near future, we will face huge cuts in state funding. Education, Medicaid, and other government services would likely be affected—a risk our state is not in a position to take.

So how did we get to this point? In the early 2000’s Kentucky’s pensions were in a healthy condition. While there was not one single cause for the pensions’ downhill slide, factors such as faulty assumptions led to underfunding which continued throughout the decade. The lack of proper funding over this amount of time eventually led to the critical state of our pensions today. The General Assembly took steps toward reforming the Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems (KERS) and the County Employee Retirement System (CERS) in 2013, but unfortunately the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS) was not included in those measures and the problem continued to grow.

This is not a partisan issue. In 2016 the General Assembly—Republicans and Democrats—made a commitment to address the problem. This started with a dedication of $1.2 billion annually to help with the shortfalls in KERS and KTRS as well as establishing a permanent pension fund. We also hired a third party organization, the PFM Group, to investigate the state of our pension systems.

In 2016, PFM was hired pursuant to legislation that passed 38-0 in the Senate and 99-1 in the House.

On Monday, August 28, the PFM Group gave its final presentation to the General Assembly’s Public Pension Oversight Board, offering its recommendations on how to best address the problem. I, along with my colleagues in the General Assembly and Governor Bevin, will consider PFM Group’s recommendations and craft a plan that will be implemented in a special session.

What happens if we keep kicking the can down the road? The only path forward would be to cut funding in other areas of state government. Kindergarten-12 public education, already under the burden of larger class sizes, too few teachers, and a shortage of resources, could face cuts. Higher education would also feel the cuts and make college less affordable. Medicaid, public safety and infrastructure—all services of state government many would agree are mission-critical—would also suffer in this unfortunate scenario.

However, there are ways to avoid that situation. There is a path forward that allows us to balance our legal and moral obligation to our retirees while reforming the broken systems. Our priority is ensuring our retirees have a secure retirement that will provide for them in the years to come without taking away from other priority state programs. Addressing this crisis will not be an easy task, but I will continue to work alongside my colleagues in the General Assembly to ensure we find a solution that provides for our retirees while being responsible stewards for taxpayer dollars. Now that the study from PFM has been completed, discussions on specific policies will begin. If you have questions or concerns about pension reform, please do not hesitate to contact my office directly. If you would like to see the reports for yourself, head to

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at


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.


Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council

Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council

Yesterday, June 21, 2016, the Governor announced the formation of a group dedicated to studying Kentucky's criminal code and recommending legislation for the 2017 General Assembly to consider passing.  Yours truly, as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, holds a seat in this august group.  Ultimately, we should aim to improve public safety, and improve outcomes for victims, for those accused and for the taxpayers footing the bill.   I'm excited about the work ahead!

Below I've included the Governor's press release in its entirety.  At the bottom you can see the "CJPAC" membership.

Gov. Bevin Announces Kentucky-led Council on Criminal Justice Reform

Bipartisan council will undertake a comprehensive review of justice policy for reforms next year

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 21, 2016) –– With prisons at capacity, overdose deaths on the rise, and families fractured by incarceration, Gov. Matt Bevin today announced plans to seek a smarter, compassionate, evidence-based approach to criminal justice in Kentucky.

Kentucky has achieved very important milestones in justice and public safety policy in dating violence protections, national model juvenile justice reform and annual efforts to combat the ever changing threat of substance abuse.
— Sen. Whitney Westerfield

Standing in the Capitol Rotunda with a broad coalition of lawmakers, advocates and policy leaders, Gov. Bevin introduced his newly-formed Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council. The 23-member panel will seek expert advice & study data-driven evidence over the next six months and recommend reforms in the 2017 General Assembly for a smarter, stronger and fairer system of justice.

“From the very beginning, America has been a land of second chances. Even so, many in our criminal justice system are not given a path forward to become productive members of society after they have served their time,” said Gov. Bevin. “I believe in the importance of supporting basic human dignity. When we hold individuals fully accountable for their actions while treating them with respect in the process, all of society benefits. I am excited today to announce the formation of the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council. Their purpose is to carefully study and then suggest actionable policy solutions for improving our criminal justice system.”

Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley will lead the council, and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton will serve as Special Advisor to the committee and Liaison to the Governor.

"While we have made great strides, Kentucky can get smarter on crime while remaining tough on criminals,” Secretary Tilley said. "By using data-driven policy and clear evidence, we can cut re-offense rates, improve reentry, increase drug treatment and treat mental illness – all while maintaining, and even bettering public safety.”

Gov. Bevin formed the bipartisan council in response to a growing patchwork of statutes that now comprise much of the state’s penal code. This has resulted in a costly expansion of Kentucky’s criminal justice system with diminishing returns in public safety. 

However, Kentucky’s criminal code has remained largely untouched for decades, and is sorely in need of updates reflecting public policies that spend scarce taxpayer dollars wisely and improve public safety.
— Sen. Whitney Westerfield

The Kentucky legislature has enacted important reforms in recent years, including laws that increased substance abuse treatment in prisons, strengthened pretrial release policies, and modified sentences for certain drug offences. 

“Over each of the last few years Kentucky has achieved very important milestones in justice and public safety policy in dating violence protections, national model juvenile justice reform and annual efforts to combat the ever changing threat of substance abuse,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “However, Kentucky’s criminal code has remained largely untouched for decades, and is sorely in need of updates reflecting public policies that spend scarce taxpayer dollars wisely and improve public safety.” 

The need to address the cost of criminal justice is clear. Kentucky spent nearly half a billion dollars on corrections last year, consuming funds incarcerating individuals for non-violent crimes that could otherwise benefit classrooms and job training programs. Meanwhile, inmate populations at prisons and jails remain high, criminal sentences are often inconsistent and Kentucky is leading the nation in the number of children with an incarcerated parent.

“I am hopeful that we will treat this initiative for criminal justice reform as an opportunity to build upon the redemptive philosophy that we achieved with the passage of the felony expungement legislation that Rep. Darryl Owens sponsored for many years,” said Rep. Chris Harris, of Forest Hills. “We cannot continue to try to incarcerate our way out of the problems facing our society, many of which are rooted in addiction to controlled substances and mental health issues. Addressing these pervasive issues is the key to solving the problem of the revolving door of incarceration and allowing these folks to reenter society successfully and become contributing members of their communities.” 

Gov. Bevin said the bipartisan, Kentucky-led council will bring together people from across the Commonwealth – with a wide range of expertise – to look at the many complex issues that present challenges to the criminal justice system. 

“I am encouraged by the diverse community of stakeholders that criminal justice reform has brought to the table,” Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey said. “As both an African-American and the Secretary of the Labor Cabinet, it is deeply personal to me that I help find ways to reduce recidivism and provide workforce re-entry opportunities for the thousands of Kentuckians who deserve a second chance.  While there are no quick fixes to complex problems like this one, I am looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues on this council to identify real solutions needed to address this critically important issue.”

For Russell Coleman, the issues hit home when he confronted them head on as an FBI special agent.

“As someone who has been privileged to serve in our law enforcement community, I was a natural skeptic of reform,” said Coleman, a western Kentucky native, who now practices law at Frost Brown Todd in Louisville. “But when the data and experience of conservative governors in other states indicate that well-crafted reforms actually make our families safer, we can’t afford not to work together in achieving those successes in our commonwealth.”

Members of the Council include:

  • Chairman John Tilley, Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet
  • Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
  • Derrick Ramsey, Secretary of the Labor Cabinet
  • Sen. John Schickel, R-Union
  • Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville
  • Rep. Denny Butler, R-Louisville
  • Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills
  • Dr. Allen Brenzel, Department of Behavioral Health, Cabinet for Health and Family Services
  • Judge David A. Tapp, 28th Judicial Circuit Court, Division 1
  • Judge-Executive Tommy Turner, LaRue County
  • Amy Milliken, Warren County Attorney
  • Courtney Baxter, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Oldham, Henry, Trimble counties
  • Rick Sanders, Kentucky State Police Commissioner
  • Damon Preston, Deputy Public Advocate, Department of Public Advocacy
  • Russell Coleman, Spokesman for Kentucky Smart on Crime
  • Tom Jensen, Attorney, retired Judge and former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Anthony Smith, Executive Director of Cities United
  • Jason Woosley, Grayson County Jailer
  • Bob Russell, Retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church
  • Bishop William Medley, Diocese of Owensboro
  • Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
  • Justice Daniel J. Venters, Supreme Court of Kentucky, 3rd District