Legislative Update: Two Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot
This year’s election is unlike any in our history. Instead of marching into our usual local polling place, many of us are voting in different locations and different ways. Some of you may have already requested and received your absentee ballot, or you plan to vote in-person before election day. I also expect a significant number of people will choose to vote on Election Day.
Although how we cast our ballot and who we vote for will vary, every Kentucky voter will have an opportunity to vote on two constitutional amendments. The legislature approved both in the 2020 legislative session, sending them to voters for consideration. Now you will have the opportunity to approve or reject these proposed changes to our state constitution. The constitution was adopted in 1891, so you can imagine that several amendments have been adopted since then. These two proposals will be listed on the ballot exactly as they would appear in the constitution if they are accepted. This means transparency – but it also means that both are lengthy and can be confusing. I thought I would offer a summary of the changes they put forward.
Kentucky Constitutional Amendment #1: The first proposed amendment is commonly referred to as Marsy’s Law. If passed, this constitutional amendment would add a bill of rights for crime victims. These rights would include the right to be notified, present, and heard at court proceedings. It would create guarantees that crime victims are treated with fairness and respect and provide the right to full and timely restitution. If voters approve the amendment again, crime victims would receive a notification when the accused is released.
If Marsy’s Law sounds familiar, it should because it was on the ballot in 2018 and received 63 percent of the vote. It is part of a national movement honoring the life of a young woman who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend. Even though voters gave it the nod, the Supreme Court ruled that it could not take effect because the exact language of the amendment was not on the ballot. While this goes against the way Kentuckians have voted on proposed amendments for more than a century, the question on the ballot will meet this requirement.
Kentucky Constitutional Amendment #2: The second constitutional amendment on the ballot deals with term limits for specific offices in the judiciary branch. This constitutional amendment would increase the terms of circuit court clerks and commonwealth’s attorneys from six years to eight years starting in 2030. It would increase the terms of county attorneys and district judges from four years to eight years beginning in 2022. Additionally, it would change attorney licensing requirements for district attorneys from two years to eight years starting in 2022. This amendment is meant to help with judicial redistricting next year to reduce unequal caseloads in districts. In addition to the term length changes, the constitutional amendment also raises experience requirements for district court candidates. Currently, attorneys are only required to have their law license for two years before they can run for district judge. District judges handle a broad scope of issues, and it is important that folks have confidence that these officials have the experience, skills, and qualifications necessary to make the best decisions. While attending law school and passing the bar exam are measures of preparedness, only practicing law for two years simply may not provide the understanding and experience necessary to determine how the law must be applied.
Any change to the Kentucky constitution will affect generations of Kentuckians. I would encourage everyone to take these votes just as seriously as one for an official seeking public office. Do independent research and read the amendment thoroughly. Be an informed voter and a part of the process. Vote based on your morals, values, and beliefs.
I am always available to discuss any issue of importance to you. I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181, and you can contact me via e-mail at Richard.White@lrc.ky.gov. You can also follow me on Facebook @whiteforstaterep and for regular updates. You can also keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky legislature’s website at legislature.ky.gov.