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A Republican senator without a party

Reasonable bills, reasoned stances. And yet, it appears this senator is on the outside of his own party.

Co-chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Fruit Hill) asks a question about staffing in the state’s juvenile justice centers during Thursday’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary meeting. (photo via LRC Public Information Office)

Late last year, there was a meeting in Louisville featuring the Whitney Strong Foundation leader, Whitney Austin, and State Senators Whitney Westerfield ( R) and David Yates (D). They gave a compelling presentation about a new version of a Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention (CARR) bill. Such a bill is focused on people in crisis who may be reported to law enforcement. If that happens, it puts in motion a series of steps that could result in the removal of firearms from the person in crisis, as well as treatment for that person and possible eventual return of the firearms. There are also built in safeguards that allow the “accused” to have due process.

Many people and groups, especially Moms Demand Action, who support common sense gun reform measures, eagerly awaited the introduction of the bill by Senator Westerfield. Senate Bill 13 (SB 13) was introduced on the Senate floor on January 25, 2024.

Normally, the Senate refers bills to committee within a few days. As of this writing, it has been 11 session days since SB 13 was introduced, and it still has not been referred to committee.

Senator Westerfield also filed a wonderful family support bill, SB 34, on Jan 2, 2024. It was referred to the Appropriations & Revenue Committee on Jan 5th, but has not been “taken up” by that committee. (Which is, perhaps, a little more understandable, since the Senate A&R committee now has the House budget bills in hand, and those bills have the highest priority.)

There was an interesting Senate floor debate on Tuesday, February 6th, regarding Senate Resolution 123 (SR 123). The resolution calls on Governor Beshear to support Texas Governor Gregg Abbott in his fight with the U.S. Border Patrol over his state’s southern border. As one would expect, many Republicans spoke in strong, impassioned favor of the measure and spewed vitriolic comments about President Biden and “illegal aliens” (their words). In a surprise, and lonely, step, Senator Westerfield rose and condemned the resolution and laid the blame at the feet of the U.S. Congress for not doing their job. (You can see his remarks at this link; Senator Westerfield’s remarks start at 56.47. It is preceded by Senator Wheeler’s vitriol at 45.22.) Of course, SR 123 passed by voice vote.

I watched a joint interim committee meeting late last year when Senator Westerfield discussed his upcoming proposed CARR bill. He spoke of what had caused him to change his mind about supporting some common sense gun reform. He is a dad (and soon to be the father of triplets this summer), and the senseless slaughter at Uvalde combined with hearing the voices of children on the 911 tapes got to him. He agreed to work with Senator Yates and Whitney Austin to bring SB 13 forward.

His bipartisan bills and stances seem to have irritated the Senate leadership, and he may be being “punished” for not going along with the program. If SB 13 is ever assigned to committee, I would bet a boatload that it will not be assigned to the committee Sen. Westerfield chairs, the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He also announced a decision to not seek re-election after this term. While he is a strong conservative on lots of issues (fiscal and abortion), he seems to be growing more dissatisfied with the path some in the Republican party are taking. He is willing to step up and speak out about issues, especially those where collaboration is necessary. His current party appears to be treating him like some of the moderate Republicans in Congress are being treated for trying to craft bipartisan immigration bills.  I, for one, am sorry to see Senator Westerfield go.

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Joanie Prentice

Joanie Prentice is a Mom, Grandma, RN and a self-anointed “Legislative Nerd.” She is an activist who is passionate about educating voters. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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