Kentucky lawmakers who began their 2010 session on Tuesday will consider a spate of domestic violence bills after one of their former colleagues was charged in the high-profile killing of an ex-girlfriend.
The first bill filed on Tuesday would require people named in emergency protective orders to wear ankle monitors so that police would know their whereabouts. Another expected bill would mandate longer prison sentences for stalkers.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he expects the legislation to have broad support in a legislative session that will focus primarily on resolving the state's financial problems.
Budget issues have overshadowed all others in Kentucky. The economic recession has hit the state's general fund hard, leading to a projected $1.5 billion shortfall over the next two-year budget cycle. Already, Gov. Steve Beshear and lawmakers have cut about $1 billion in spending from the current budget.
Political leaders will consider an array of budget fixes through mid-April. Beshear has said he opposes broad-based tax increases, but has left open the possibility of expanded gambling as a means to generate $200 million to $300 million a year in new revenue for state government.
That proposal would require legalizing video slot machines so that they could be placed at horse tracks. Stumbo said the idea could pick up support when lawmakers realize the severity of the state's financial problems. Senate President David Williams, a staunch opponent of the proposal, said the idea doesn't pass constitutional muster.
A similar proposal passed the House last year but died in the Senate.
In the midst of the clamor over finances and gambling, women's advocates were at the Capitol on Tuesday to ensure that the domestic violence legislation isn't overlooked.
Stumbo has been pushing for the ankle monitors since last year's shooting death of Lexington resident Amanda Ross. Her ex-fiance, former state lawmaker Steve Nunn, was charged with murder, and has entered a not guilty plea.
After the breakup of their engagement, Ross had obtained the domestic violence protective order. Prosecutors claim Nunn shot Ross outside her Lexington town house on Sept. 11, 2009.
Stumbo, the chief sponsor of the bill to require the ankle monitors, said placing the monitors on people who pose a domestic violence threat could alert potential victims of imminent danger. Tracking devices would send a signal when the person wearing the monitor gets too close.
State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said more than 2.5 million people are victims of domestic violence each year.
"Domestic violence is not bound by class, race or age," she said. "It can happen to anyone."
Stumbo's legislation, dubbed "Amanda's Bill," would make electronic monitoring devices available for use with the most dangerous domestic violence offenders. Judges would determine which offenders should wear an electronic bracelet to monitor their movements.
"Victims who fear for their lives, like Amanda, need to know if and when they are in imminent danger," Stumbo said. "This bill would give them that knowledge."