Attorney General Andy Beshear is asking lawmakers to strengthen Kentucky’s fight in cases involving crimes and victims in multiple counties throughout the state.
The need for such a law in Kentucky has been recently highlighted by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s use of a statewide grand jury to investigate abuse in a religious institution. A provision in Pennsylvania law allows its AG to take such action.
Kentucky law does not currently provide for such a grand jury, or allow the state attorney general to seek one.
Beshear said the procedure is necessary to investigate child abuse, human trafficking, public corruption or drug trafficking that may occur across jurisdictions.
“The major advantage of having a special grand jury is that it consolidates the investigation and prosecution of crimes that may have occurred in numerous counties to numerous victims,” Beshear said. “When needed, this process would work faster, be more efficient and happen on a larger scale for the many victims impacted.”
State lawmakers from Jefferson County Jim Wayne and Jeffery Donohue are pre-filing the bill ahead of the 2019 legislative session. Rep. Donohue will carry the legislation through the upcoming session.
“This is commonsense legislation allowing our state attorney general the authority to look into alleged areas of abuse or crime on a broader spectrum to ensure there is no wrongdoing and to protect all victims,” Rep. Wayne said.
“As lawmakers, we must put policies in place that protect our most vulnerable and seek out those who may have harmed them,” Rep. Donohue said. “This legislation would give multiple agencies, including the AG, the ability to continue to fight for victims.”
The statutory tool Beshear is seeking for the Office of the Attorney General would create a provision where the office may petition the Supreme Court of Kentucky to convene a special grand jury to investigate crimes or criminal conspiracies on a multi-jurisdictional basis.
Under the draft legislation, the AG would designate to the court the counties where the crimes allegedly took place. The AG would make the decision to intervene, or direct an investigation or criminal action.
The Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court would appoint a supervising circuit court judge from one of the designated counties to impanel a special grand jury for no more than 180 days but with the possibility of a 90-day extension, according to the draft legislation.
Beshear said while his office seeks approval from lawmakers for this provision, his Office of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Prevention and Prosecution is available for any organizations that may want child abuse prevention training for its members.
The office has trained nearly 500 individuals who work for organizations, which serve more than 102,000 youth, on how to protect young people from sexual abuse by implementing best practices policies and protocols. The training is presented in conjunction with Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky. To request a training, contact the office at.
Victims may reach out to Beshear’s Office of Victims Advocacy at 800-372-2551.
“The Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs supports efforts to ensure that those who commit sexual assault and abuse are held accountable,” said Eileen Recktenwald, executive director of KASAP.
“In the wake of the mounting allegations across the country and world, we are facing a watershed moment,” said the Rev. Dr. Beverly Weinhold, AG Survivors Council member. “Child sexual abuse in houses of worship has been shrouded in silence by churches and ignored by governmental systems resulting in revictimizing the most vulnerable among us. This bill is a necessary step in the right direction.”