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Op-Ed: Beware of Constitutional Amendments on Kentucky Ballot

The following op-ed is written by State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union).

All eyes and attention are on the upcoming presidential election choice at the top of our ballots this November. However, Kentucky ballots will also include two constitutional amendments. These will affect us far beyond the term of whoever becomes President. A good case can be made that these constitutional amendments will be the most important things you will vote on, yet many folks may not have heard about them.

Our constitution has served us well since 1891. Once it is changed, it is usually permanent. It is the rules of government by which we live. I would say that changing the constitution during a pandemic is not a good idea in the first place, but the two amendments that are proposed on this year's ballot are horrible.

The first one, known as "Marsy's Law," would unnecessarily and carelessly amend the constitution when the amendment's goals could be achieved more appropriately through statutory reforms. Many prosecuting attorneys, including Boone County's chief prosecuting attorney, the respected Louis Kelly, along with people and organizations across the political spectrum, stand in opposition to Marsy's Law. There is a consensus among legal scholars that this so-called "Crime Victim's Bill of Rights" will hurt victims. This constitutional amendment will compromise the prosecutor’s ability to get to the truth. Something that is never good for crime victims. Furthermore, it fundamentally undermines the presumption of innocence, a bedrock of the American and Kentucky criminal justice systems. Our forefathers understood the importance of the presumption of innocence. The Bill of Right’s fundamental purpose is to protect us from the awesome powers of the government. We already have criminal statutes to protect us from each other. That is the proper means by which we should vigorously protect crime victims.

Sadly, millions of dollars from outside Kentucky have been and will be spent to lobby for this constitutional amendment. This begs the ethical question. Would this constitutional amendment even be on the ballot had it not been for all of this out-of-state money? For me, the answer is obvious. Some of the most skilled lobbyists in Frankfort have been hired. Why is Kentucky letting special interests from outside our state change our sacred constitution? Do not be fooled by expensive slick ads you will soon be seeing on television leading up to election day. I am told that Kelsey Grammer will even be in one of the ads.

The second proposed constitutional amendment also deals with our justice system. It would double the terms of District judges from four years to eight and extend commonwealth's attorneys from six to eight. This self-serving constitutional amendment lobbied for by District judges gives less accountability to the public when we need more. A strong argument in favor of this amendment is that it would sync these elected officials' terms to make redistricting more feasible. However, the same could be accomplished by shortening Circuit judges' terms, which was not even discussed. In northern Kentucky, we have recently experienced two scandals, one involving a Circuit judge and one involving a commonwealth's attorney, which severely damaged the credibility of the judicial branch in the public's eyes. This is a time when the public demands more accountability, not less.

I opposed both of these measures in the Kentucky legislature. I would recommend that you join me by voting against them on or before November 3.