Groups From Across the State Respond to House Bill 5 Advancing to the Senate

FRANKFORT, KY (March 14, 2024)—A broad coalition of advocates and directly impacted Kentuckians provided testimony against House Bill (HB) 5 in the Senate Judiciary Committee today before it passed out of the committee, advancing to the Kentucky Senate. These groups rejected the claim that HB 5 will make Kentucky safer and told lawmakers that the harmful legislation is not what their communities want or need. 

HB 5 was heard for discussion only on Tuesday after adjournment of the Senate. While committee members heard opposition testimony that day from several speakers, many more were either signed up to speak against the bill or couldn’t make it to Frankfort on such short notice. At Thursday’s hearing, a number of these Kentuckians directly impacted by HB 5’s harmful policy changes returned to the Capitol to speak to the committee about their personal experiences and work to make communities safer through support and investment.

“I’m proud that as a person in recovery I can meaningfully contribute to my community,” said Mandi Fugate Sheffel, a small business owner in Hazard who works with Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky. “If the provisions harshly criminalizing addiction and limiting opportunity for recovery in House Bill 5 had been in place when I was struggling, I would not likely be in front of you here today.”

Tara Hyde, CEO of People Advocating Recovery, said she knows from her experience as a person in long term recovery that the fentanyl provisions in HB 5 will cause people to not call for help in the event of an overdose. “That is real because the threat of incarceration is real,” she said. Hyde added: “I know that we’ve said that we want to target the traffickers and the drug dealers. But we’re going to target everyone. It casts a very wide net. So I just want to call attention to that and how that is going to be problematic. People will die. People’s lives are hanging in the balance.”

Speakers emphasized what data has already proven: that increased penalties, sentences, and fines—as proposed in HB 5—do not make the type of changes that would truly increase community safety. Incarceration in Kentucky is already among the highest in the world, with the state having seen a nearly 400% growth in incarcerated citizens since 1985.

Stephanie Johnson, an organizer with VOCAL-KY who has experience with substance use disorder and homelessness who is now housed, said HB 5 “crowds out funding for solutions that actually do make us safer by investing in people.”

“I don’t believe that every child that goes to jail is a criminal,” said Velvet Welch, Executive Director of Sacred Earth Community Garden, and a part of the Shawnee Anti-Violent Coalition. “I think what makes criminals is growing up in a food desert, in a redlined community that offers no grocery stores for fresh food, no entertainment for the youth like skating rinks, bowling alleys, or even a theater!”

Last month, a diverse coalition of more than 100 Kentucky organizations, including faith, housing, justice, mental health, recovery and community groups sent a letter to the Kentucky State Senate, calling on them to reject the harmful policies in House Bill 5.

The following organizations signed on to the letter:

Abolish Slavery KY
ACLU of Kentucky
Advocacy Action Network
Advocacy Based on Lived Experience (ABLE)
African American Studies program – Spalding University
Americana Community Center
Appalshop Community Media Initiative
Berea Friends Meeting
Black Leadership Action Coalition of Kentucky (BLACK)
Black Lives Matter Louisville
Bluegrass Activist Alliance
Boyle Justice Advocates
Bridgeport Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Buddhist Justice Collective
Catholic Action Center
Center for Accessible Living
Central KY Housing and Homeless Initiative
Clark County Homeless Coalition
Coalition for the Homeless
Cycle Breakers Breaking Chains Inc.
Eastern Kentucky SURJ
Embrace Church
EmpowHER with Open Arms
Episcopal Diocese of Lexington
Exodus Family Ministries
FADD-Families Against Deadly Drugs
Fairness Campaign
Family Health Centers, Inc.
Feed Louisville
Forward Justice Action Network
Forward Kentucky
Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky
Gateway Homeless Coalition
Heartland Conference, United Church of Christ
Highland Baptist Church Anti-Racism Team
Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky
Hood to the Holler
House of Ruth
Jim Boyd Law Office
Kentuckians For The Commonwealth
Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (KACDL)
Kentucky Center for Economic Policy
Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Kentucky Committee to End Executions (KCEE)
Kentucky Conservation Committee
Kentucky Council of Churches
Kentucky Criminal Justice Forums (KCJF)
Kentucky Equal Justice Center
Kentucky Forum for Rights, Economics and Education (KYFREE)
Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition
Kentucky Health Justice Network
Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign
Kentucky Psychological Association
Kentucky Society for Clinical Social Work
Kentucky State AFL-CIO
Kentucky Voices for Health
Kentucky Women’s Network
Kept Inc
Lexington Rescue Mission
Life Coach Each One Teach One Reentry Fellowship
Louisville Family Justice Advocates
Louisville Outreach for the Unsheltered
Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice
Louisville Urban League
Madison County Tenants Union
Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio
Metro United Way
Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Mission Behind Bars and Beyond
NAMI Lexington
NAMI Kentucky
National Association of Social Workers – Kentucky Chapter
National Council of Jewish Women, Louisville Section
New Beginnings, Bluegrass, Inc.
No More Red Dots Inc
NonViolent Owensboro
Paducah Diversity Advocacy Board
People Advocating Recovery
Pointer Adventures
Prison Policy Initiative
Progress Kentucky
Quaker Committee on Kentucky Legislation
Robert Jamison Ministries, Inc.
Sierra Club Kentucky
Smart Justice Advocates
St John Center
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Somerset
St. Vincent de Paul Louisville
SURJ Kentucky
The 490 Project
The Bail Project
The Chad Lake Foundation (CLF)
The Prisoner’s Hope
The Revolution KY
Union Church, Berea
UP for Women and Children
Voices of Hope-Lexington Inc.
Welcome House KY
Wellspring, Inc.
Young Adult Development in Action, Inc.
Young People In Recovery

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