The KLC initiative that provides confidentiality protections for local first responder peer counseling programs is one vote away from heading to the governor. The House Local Government Committee approved Senate Bill 64 on Wednesday. Committee members also approved two other KLC initiatives – House Bill 565 and House Bill 536 – and KLC-supported Senate Bill 96.
“This is an important effort to protect those who protect our communities,” said Senator Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green), who sponsored the protections in Senate Bill 64. He began working on the measure long before deadly December tornadoes struck his home city of Bowling Green.
KLC Public Affairs Director Bryanna Carroll, Bowling Green Police Captain Belden Parry, and Bowling Green Fire Captain Kevin Lashley testified before the committee. Bowling Green had designed a peer counseling program for first responders but learned that current law only offered confidentiality protections for firefighters.
“Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, dispatchers, and other first responders deal with traumatic and stressful situations daily,” Wilson explained. “We want to ensure they have opportunities for emotional and mental care as unique as the experiences they face.”
“Our cities want to take care of these people both physically and mentally,” said Carroll. She stressed that the measure protects communications shared during peer counseling programs from most open records requests. The bill also creates a task force to determine best practices for local peer counseling programs.
“Providing confidential peer support counseling could help communities recruit and retain quality law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS, and dispatch staff,” Carroll said.
Representative Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill) sponsored House Bill 565, which requires the Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) to create administrative regulations that transition some instruction to online and distance learning. “This change is vitally important as law enforcement agencies struggle with wait times of several months to receive their required training,” Moser told the committee. “Moving some courses to alternate forms of learning will free up space, help officers from communities far from the Richmond facility, and potentially help state and local governments curb expenses.”
The regulations must make 10% of basic training instruction available online by January 1, 2024. DOCJT has until January 1, 2025, to provide 30% of annual in-service training online.
“A key provision is that these cannot be classes or training that require demonstratable skills or those that evaluate proficiency,” Carroll testified. “The online courses would be offered throughout the calendar year and spread over a reasonable time. DOCJT would create reasonable procedures and rules to ensure attendance, active participation, and successful mastery of subject matters presented in the online courses.”
Carroll testified that a 2021 DOCJT survey found 82% of responding law enforcement agencies supported online courses, and 86% allowed officers to complete distance-learning courses while on duty.
Representative Scott Sharp (R-Ashland) testified alongside Ashland Mayor Matt Perkins and City Attorney Jim Moore in support of House Bill 536. The measure addresses an alcohol regulatory issue unique to Ashland.
“In Ashland, we have a situation where under the current interpretations by the ABC, instead of 16 licenses we once had, we only have eight,” Moore told the committee. “We have precincts outside the four downtown precincts which are totally wet operating under a different set of rules. We have downtown precincts with no licenses available, but we collect a regulatory fee. We have precincts outside the downtown operating under a different set of rules without the limitations on licenses but where we can’t collect a regulatory fee.”
The measure would put the entire City of Ashland under the same set of regulatory rules as other cities. Mayor Perkins said the bill would help revitalize downtown areas.
The House Local Government Committee also moved Senate Bill 96 one step closer to becoming law. Senator Mike Wilson sponsored the bill that adds the Bowling Green police chief to the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council (KLEC).
All four bills now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.