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‘Cooperation and collaboration:’ A legislative legacy from a departing state senator.

In World
April 04, 2024

The first time I interviewed Sen. Whitney Westerfield in 2019, it was about domestic violence. Specifically, why Kentucky didn’t track any domestic violence statistics, including how many people die from it every year.

My colleagues and I had been writing about this issue for a decade, but Westerfield, a Republican from Fruit Hill, was the first legislator to appear to be genuinely shocked and appalled that advocates used a newspaper clipping service to find out how many people died at the hands of intimate partners.

For the next three years, he worked on a bill that would link state and local law enforcement, courts and advocates to get annual reporting data. In 2022, Senate Bill 271 passed both the House and Senate unanimously, an almost unheard of bipartisan agreement on an issue than has in the past been highly divisive.

“The best bills are those with cooperation and collaboration,” Westerfield said.

As he prepares to retire after his 12-year stint in the General Assembly, this is an incomplete list of work Westerfield is most proud of, some of which didn’t even make it through legislation.

Senate Bill 200 in 2014: A juvenile justice reform bill adopted after a year-long bipartisan task force that’s been used a model in other states. It focused on keeping low-level offenders out of expensive juvenile justice facilities, improved pre-court processes and created an oversight board.

House Bill 8: In 2015, Democratic Rep. John Tilly sponsored a bill that extended domestic violence protections to dating couples. Westerfield ushered the bill through the Senate.

Senate Bill 15: Marsy’s Law was a constitutional amendment that created constitutional rights for crime victims. It passed twice with voters, but was rejected the first time by the state Supreme Court because the entire text of the amendment had not been printed on the ballot.

Westerfield said he’s also proud of the CROWN Act, which gives protections for natural hair, which failed two years in a row, and Senate Bill 34, the ALPHA Act, to require health care plans to cover many more of the costs associated with childbirth, including breast feeding services.

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