Senate Clears First Responder Counseling Measure

First responders who serve cities across Kentucky are a step closer to the mental health assistance they deserve. The Senate passed a KLC initiative on Tuesday that will offer confidentiality protections for local first responder peer counseling programs.

Senator Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green) sponsored Senate Bill 64, a measure that became more critical following the December tornadoes. Those storms killed 17 in his home city.

“In my hometown of Bowling Green, and in many of your hometowns, first responders raced to help residents in their time of need when deadly tornadoes ripped a path of destruction across western Kentucky,” Wilson said from the Senate floor. “Their commitment to duty that night and in the days to follow demonstrates what makes our commonwealth great. The trauma they faced while helping strangers in their darkest hour highlights something most of us cannot begin to appreciate fully.” He added, “Senate Bill 64 will help those who are there for us in our most traumatic moments.”

The City of Bowling Green had previously attempted to create a local first responder peer counseling group but found confidentiality protections did not extend beyond firefighters. City officials delayed implementing the program because they did not want to leave behind police officers, emergency medical services (EMS) staff, or dispatchers.

Confidentiality protections provided by Senate Bill 64 mirror any counselor-client privilege provided under Kentucky’s Rules of Evidence. Confidentiality would not apply to an explicit threat; threat to a clearly identified or reasonably identifiable victim; information on the abuse or neglect of a child, older adult, or vulnerable person; admission of criminal conduct; or information required by law to be disclosed.

The measure also calls for a task force to develop best practices within a year of enactment. The Department for Behavioral Health commissioner would appoint 12 people and chair the group. Appointees would come from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Kentucky Professional Firefighters Association, Department for Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT), Kentucky Fire Commission, KLC, Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo), Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services (KBEMS), Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, Emergency Number Association, an EMS professional, and three people with peer counseling experience.

Senate Bill 64 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Also, on Tuesday, Representative John Blanton (R-Salyersville) filed House Bill 414. The KLC initiative would make it easier for cities to recruit and retain law enforcement officers. The bill removes some limitations to the number of retired police officers a city can employ and allows for flexibility in police officer work schedules. It also removes the current restriction for hiring new police officers over the age of 46.

The House of Representatives passed KLC-supported House Bill 45. The measure defines “advanced recycling” as a manufacturing process. It could benefit cities by creating economic opportunities and reducing demand on landfills.