FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - State Sen. Tom Jenson says it's the most important piece of legislation he has worked on in his 17 years in the General Assembly. It's a massive bill that would overhaul Kentucky's judicial system. Some argue it would put Kentucky on the cutting edge.
The bill was designed to reduce the state prison population, save money, and increase public safety. A big part of the overhaul has to do with drug offenders.
"$422 million over the decade, when we begin realizing the full savings," said State Rep. John Tilley (D-District 8/Hopkinsville) the bill's sponsor.
Tilley is chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He and his republican counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Tom Jenson (District 21/London), filed identical legislation. Tilley's bill has been modified and passed the House and Senate Judiciary Committee. Tilley estimates the overhaul will save an estimated $42 million each year.
"Savings will trickle in immediately upon passage of this bill," said Tilley.
According to Tilley's estimates, each inmate costs the state almost $22,000 a year, which is why he wants to reduce the state prison population. House Bill 463 is changing the way the courts handle drug offenders by differentiating between sellers and users. In some cases it shortens sentences for some users, but the sponsor says that doesn't mean the state is getting soft.
"Current felonies - none are being reclassified as misdemeanors," said Tilley. "We're not lightening penalties for any serious or violent or chronic offender."
Tilley says housing inmates costs more than $50 a day, compared to the $2.50 it costs to supervise them. This bill recommends treatment versus incarceration for some drug users and using electronic surveillance for non-violent offenders.
"The cost of this GPS for pretrial, who bears the cost of that?" asked State Sen. Perry Clark (D-District 37/Louisville).
The answer is the counties, at least until the changes start adding up to savings. Then that money could then be reinvested and pay for it.
Several people spoke in favor of this massive judicial overhaul, including Kentucky's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Michael Brown, reps from the Commonwealth Attorney's Association, and Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton.
The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Some lawmakers have been criticized for blocking legislation because of the upcoming governor's race and very little has been able to get through both chambers.
This House bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote, possibly Monday. If it passes, Gov. Steve Beshear will have the final say.
Although both judiciary chairs are from different parties, they credit the task force that has been working on this for eight months and call it real bipartisanship.