House and Senate committees cleared two KLC initiatives on Wednesday. One bill helps first responders retain confidentiality during peer counseling sessions, while another clarifies how a governor makes appointments to the Advisory Council for Recovery Ready Communities and Kentucky Law Enforcement Council (KLEC).
The Senate State and Local Government Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 64 following testimony from KLC Director of Public Affairs Bryanna L. Carroll, bill sponsor Senator Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green), and Bowling Green Human Resources Director Erin Hulsey, who explained how last month’s deadly tornadoes highlighted the need. The KLC initiative would help thousands of police, fire, emergency medical services (EMS) employees, and telecommunicators.
“This is an important effort to protect those who protect our communities,” said Senator Wilson.
Hulsey told legislators that the city tried to create a peer counseling group for police but realized that state law only provides confidentiality protections for firefighters. “We decided it was more important to wait for these protections for all first responders than to move forward without them,” she testified.
First responders regularly experience traumatic events throughout their careers, potentially more than once a shift. However, Hulsey said that finding a mental health professional with first responder experience is rare, so peer counseling on the local level is preferred.
Carroll reminded legislators that local government programs do not have the same protections as the Kentucky Fire Commission and the Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT).
The state has around 8,000 law enforcement officers and 21,000 paid and volunteer firefighters. Cities employ roughly 600 EMS personnel and more than 300 dispatchers, and specialty ambulance districts account for nearly 900 EMS personnel.
Senate Bill 64 ensures that communications shared during peer counseling programs remain confidential except in incidents involving threats of suicide or harm and admissions of criminal conduct. “Providing confidential peer support counseling could help communities recruit and retain quality law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS, and dispatch staff,” Carroll explained. Hulsey agreed that confidentiality is critical in getting first responders to discuss the traumas that can affect their mental health.
“I’m disappointed to tell you that on December 11, 2021, the City of Bowling Green didn’t have a plan in place to support our first responders after the horrific events following the tornados that went through our city,” Hulsey remarked. “I am grateful that we were on a path towards a program, which meant that I already had connections with mental health professionals, peer support coordinators from other agencies, and organizations with expertise in critical incident stress management. We did the very best we could, but I never want to have our police officers, dispatchers, and firefighters go through another critical event without a plan and program in place to help each other.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) made the motion to pass the bill, saying, “This is a really good bill. Senator Wilson and I spent a long time talking about it earlier this week.”
Senate Bill 64 now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
The House Local Government Committee passed a KLC initiative that clarifies how a governor makes appointments to the Advisory Council for Recovery Ready Communities and Kentucky Law Enforcement Council (KLEC).
Committee members unanimously passed House Bill 335 following testimony from sponsor Representative Adam Bowling (R-Middlesboro) and KLC Executive Director/CEO J.D. Chaney.
The measure clarifies that a governor must appoint an organizational representative to the council from a list of three names submitted by that group. Bowling explained that the legislation ensures that organizations vital in the recovery process have a say in who represents them. “I want to clarify that we have no issue with anyone currently serving on the council,” he said. “We have a great group of advocates to help our communities deal with this issue. We want to ensure a proper process for these appointments, similar to the method used for other boards.”
House Bill 335 also requires the governor to follow the same procedure for KLEC appointments.
KLEC oversees police training academies, including those operated by cities. Members of law enforcement and locally elected officials who operate local law enforcement agencies sit on KLEC. “In our case, the mayor or city manager appointed to KLEC would come from a list of three names submitted by the Kentucky League of Cities,” Chaney told the committee. “The governor would appoint a judge/executive from a list of three names submitted by the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo).”
All current, qualified KLEC appointees would serve through their terms.
The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.