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Higdon: Constitutional amendments on November ballot deserve your attention

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 — Expanded absentee voting is still underway, and early voting begins on Tuesday, Oct. 13. Most people have few questions about “who” is on their ballot, but several people have contacted me with questions regarding “what” the two ballot measures on this year’s ballots are. If approved by Kentucky voters with a simple majority, these 2020 ballot measures would be added to our state constitution.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

In Kentucky, if 60 percent of the state House and state Senate’s membership passes a proposed amendment, it will go on the ballot of the next general election in which members of the state legislature are up for election. If a simple majority approves the proposed amendment of those voting, it is ratified into the state constitution.

Look on the back of your ballot. You will find the two amendments that the Kentucky legislature has approved and submitted to the Commonwealth voters for their ratification or rejection. The amendments are printed in full. Your options are to either vote “yes” to ratify the amendment or “no” to reject it.

Constitutional Amendment 1 was Regular Session 2020 (RS 2020) Senate Bill 15. Constitutional Amendment 2 was RS 2020 House Bill 405. I encourage you to read these amendments’ full language before casting your vote and submitting your ballot. The language of the amendments is detailed and lengthy. With that in mind, I want to provide you a summary of these ballot measures to help you better understand them. I also want to share with you my decisions based on constituents comments.

Constitutional Amendment 1 asks voters if they favor creating a new section of the Constitution of Kentucky relating to crime victims. This “Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights” aims to make sure crime victims are notified, present, and heard at a proceeding; have the safety of themselves and their family considered in bail or release decisions; be notified of release or escape of the accused; and receive restitution from the person who committed the criminal offense.

This amendment has the best of intentions. Victims of crimes deserve dignity and respect throughout a criminal proceeding. I previously supported this ballot measure back in 2018. Shortly after, I began hearing from others with concerns about it and realized this amendment has unintended consequences. In fact, in the 2020 Regular Session, I voted in opposition to the measure because I fear it misunderstands the bedrock in which our criminal justice system is founded; that is, the assumption of innocence.

By presuming someone is a victim at the start of a criminal proceeding, the accused is being presumed guilty, not innocent. The amendment creates a false equivalency between the “co-equal” rights of victims and the accused. The constitution rightly ensures strong protections to individuals from excessive government. It recognizes our inalienable rights on which the government may not infringe. Defendants’ rights apply to cases where the state is attempting to deprive the accused of their inalienable rights. Victims’ rights, by contrast, seeks recovery in cases where guilt is determined. Statutory law, not the constitution, is the proper means by which victims should be protected. It does not have to come at the expense of the foundation that our justice system operates on.

Kentucky already has statutory protections for crime victims. For example, Constitutional Amendment 1 includes a provision about the right of victims to be notified upon the transfer, release, or escape of the person who committed the criminal offense. This is a provision nobody opposes. Kentucky has already implemented the Kentucky Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) notification system. VINE gives victims important status updates on any change in their offender’s custody status. If the VINE system or state statutes to protect victims’ needs are in need of strengthening, we can do that. But I am opposed to experimenting with our state constitution, a document that should demand careful deliberation before modification. For the reasons mentioned above and to prevent Kentucky from experiencing costly burdens on its criminal justice system that several other states that have experienced after passing this amendment, I encourage you to read the amendment closely before making your decision to vote “yes” or “no.”

Constitutional Amendment 2 asks if voters are in favor of changing the terms of Commonwealth’s attorneys from six-year terms to eight-year terms, beginning in 2030; changing the terms of judges of the district court from four-year terms to eight year terms beginning in 2022; and requiring district judges to be licensed attorneys for at least eight years beginning in 2022.

I voted in favor of submitting it to Kentucky voters for ratification or rejection. Our state is long overdue in the redistricting of judicial districts. With the lack of uniformity in terms of Commonwealth’s attorneys and district judges, it has proven difficult for the Supreme Court of Kentucky and the General Assembly to ensure each region’s needs are met. By marrying the two terms and making their elections coincide, both positions will be filled at the same time.
Furthermore, the eight years as a licensed attorney requirement will provide that candidates for the job are adequately prepared to take on the many and growing demands placed on holders of this position. I have heard from several people who are very concerned about giving these officials eight-year terms. I encourage you to read the amendment closely before making your decision to vote “yes” or “no.”

No matter what your vote on these measures or who you plan on voting for in the 2020 General Election races on your ballot, be informed and make your voice heard. There are very few excuses for not voting this year. Expanded absentee voting is an available option for you through govoteky.com. Early voting locations are accessible in your county, and you can find details on these locations and in-person Election Day locations at sos.ky.gov. Our Republic is dependent on an informed and engaged citizenry. Please vote on November 3.

I know many are still facing challenges. I would love to hear from you and be of any help that I can. Please reach out to me by phone at 270-692-6945 or by email at jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov if I can be of assistance. Thank you again to local news websites and radio stations in the 14th Senate District. Take a moment to visit their websites and listen in to your local news sources. It is where trusted news originates. Stay safe, and God bless.

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