Bill charging juveniles with felonies in cases with firearm advances

Published 12:09 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

Juveniles accused of committing certain felonies while using a firearm could be tried as adults under Senate Bill 20, which was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, who says the measure addresses an unfortunate situation in the state: youth gun violence. During his testimony, Deneen cited several recent incidences of shootings involving teens, including one in Louisville from over the weekend.

“Our kids are using guns to settle their disputes,” he said. “In many cases, they’re using guns that are illegally obtained through carjackings and sometimes even with the help of an adult.”

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Under current law, Deneen said many juveniles are allowed “to go into jail and walk right back out before our policemen even have time to finish the paperwork.” SB 20 would change that, he noted. “It takes our most heinous crimes – A, B and C felonies involving the use of a gun – and it transfers those to circuit court.”

The original version of SB 20 contained provisions that ended up in House Bill 5, which passed the Senate last week.  SB 20 was amended in the House Judiciary Committee to remove those redundant provisions, Committee Chair Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, said.

The new version of SB 20 only focuses on juvenile felony offenses involving firearms, according to the two men.

Deneen said this bill would hold violent juveniles accountable and prevent them from creating more victims. “This is not a perpetrator-centered bill. This is a victim-centered bill. We owe it to those who have been wounded and are now in wheelchairs because of gun violence committed by other juveniles.”

During discussion, Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, said she agrees that gun violence is a major issue that needs to be addressed. However, she does not believe SB 20 will help, and she advocated for more prevention measures. “There have been over 100 JCPS students who have been shot – some killed, some just wounded – and we need to do something. However, I think this approach is the wrong approach.”

The bill passed the committee on a 12-4 vote, and now heads to the House floor. If approved there, the measure would have to be returned to the Senate for a concurrence vote on the House changes.