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Kentucky Bill Would Authorize Use of Deadly Force Against Homeless People

The Kentucky State Capitol, where Republican lawmakers are advocating for the controversial "Safer Kentucky Act" targeting homelessness, as covered in a Vice report.

In Kentucky, a contentious bill is being pushed by Republican lawmakers that could significantly impact the state’s approach to homelessness. According to Vice, the proposed legislation, known as the “Safer Kentucky Act” or HB5, includes provisions that would authorize the use of force, potentially even deadly force, against unhoused individuals found camping on private property. Additionally, the bill aims to criminalize unsanctioned homeless encampments and limit the ability of cities and towns to override state laws on the matter.

Introduced by Republican state representative Jared Bauman and backed by 52 sponsors in the House, the bill is set for a vote this week. One of the most alarming aspects of the “Safer Kentucky Act” is its authorization for property owners to use force against people found to be unlawfully camping on their property. This provision raises significant concerns among advocates for the homeless, who fear it could lead to violence and vigilantism against vulnerable populations.

The bill also proposes several other stringent measures, including mandatory life sentences without parole for individuals convicted of three violent felonies, criminalization of small amounts of fentanyl, and restrictions on bail payments over $5000 by charitable organizations. Moreover, it includes provisions to increase involuntary commitment for people with mental illness and make “public camping” a Class B misdemeanor on the second offense.

Critics of the bill, including the Louisville Urban League and the Coalition for the Homeless Kentucky, argue that it criminalizes homelessness and fails to address the root causes of the issue. They point out that successful Housing First programs in Louisville have shown high success rates in moving people from homelessness to permanent housing, yet these programs are underfunded and unable to meet the growing need.

The bill’s approach to homelessness, modeled after a template produced by the libertarian Cicero Institute, has drawn criticism for its punitive nature and lack of support for evidence-based solutions. Advocates stress that criminalizing homelessness and authorizing use of force against unhoused individuals are inhumane responses to a complex social issue.

As reported by Vice, the “Safer Kentucky Act” reflects a trend in some states towards more punitive measures against homelessness, sparking debate over the balance between public safety and the rights and dignity of unhoused individuals. The upcoming vote on this bill in Kentucky will be a crucial indicator of the direction the state intends to take on this contentious issue.