Beshear lets ‘teens tried as adults’ bill become law Skip to content

Beshear lets ‘teens tried as adults’ bill become law

As his 10-day veto period came to a close, Kentucky’s Democratic governor allowed a bill to become law that automatically tries 15-year-olds charged with gun felonies as adults.

2 min read
Photo by Rainer Bleek / Unsplash

Three years ago, Republicans supported and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed a bill adding conditions that a judge should consider before moving a child who commits a felony offense with a gun to adult court.

On Tuesday, Beshear allowed a bill to become law that undoes that legislation. Senate Bill 20 would immediately elevate certain youth gun crimes to adult court, instead of requiring prosecutors to petition a judge to elevate a minor’s case.

Tuesday was the last day Beshear could have vetoed the controversial bill that nearly all Democratic lawmakers voted against. Without his signature or veto, the measure became law on its own.

Republican Sen. Matthew Deneen, from Elizabethtown, said in a committee hearing the bill was necessary to fight back against gun violence among minors.

“We are seeing youthful offenders committing these adult crimes,” Deneen said. “We want to make sure that our laws address the current issue. Not what we hope it to be, not what it was, but to deal with the current reality.”

The bill has drawn the censure of nearly all Democratic lawmakers and several Republicans, including GOP Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Fruit Hill.

Westerfield, who supported the 2021 change in the juvenile justice statute, voted against the new legislation in a committee hearing and again when it came to the Senate floor. He heavily criticized the bill for slashing judicial discretion.

“Whether the defendant has a serious intellectual disability, we're taking that out. The court can't consider that,” Westerfield said at the hearing. “I find this repugnant, not poorly intended.”

The requirement to consider “serious intellectual disabilities” was added in the 2021 bill. Under SB 20, if the evidence supports that a child who is 15 years or older used a gun in the commission of a crime and committed a serious offense, those two factors would preclude a judge from moving the child’s case out of Circuit Court.

Lexington Democratic Rep. Lindsey Burke was equally critical of the bill. She said in a floor vote that the bill could contribute to the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Here we are three years later going back to a presumption that teenagers ought to be punished to the full extent of the law with very limited consideration of how we might rehabilitate them rather than punishing them,” Burke said.

No Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Beshear declined to immediately respond for comment on why he allowed the bill to become law.

Beshear allowed several other bills to become law that nearly all Democrats criticized, including a bill to allow veterans and retired police officers to patrol school grounds with guns and another to essentially remove any exceptions that allow minors to keep certain medical records private from their parents.


Written by Sylvia Goodman. Cross-posted from WEKU.

Print Friendly and PDF

Guest Author

Articles by outside authors. See the article for the author and contact information.