U.S. Sen. Rand Paul ended a four-stop stretch touring western Kentucky Tuesday at the Purchase Area Development District (PADD) to talk with local law enforcement.
A Republican from Kentucky, Sen. Paul visited with officers from police and sheriff’s departments from locations such as Graves, Calloway and Marshall counties to get their opinions of proposed federal police reform legislation. Within that topic was the issue of qualified immunity that protects state and local officials, including police officers, from personal liabilities while performing their duties unless it violates a constitutional right.
Paul and officials, including state GOP legislators Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield and Rep. Chris Freeland of Benton, held a closed door discussion at the PADD Tuesday afternoon before the senator spoke to The Mayfield Messenger.
“They seem pretty unified that they didn’t want any changes to qualified immunity in the bill,” Paul said. “I told them that’s a Republican position and we’re not going to vote on any packages that change qualified immunity.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March. The bill, named after the Minneapolis black man who died last May while being arrested by four police officers, would ban chokeholds and alter qualified immunity to make it easier to file lawsuit claims regarding police misconduct.
One of the police officers involved in Floyd’s death was convicted in April.
A bipartisan deal may be reached this month, according to some GOP senators in a May 25 Associated Press article. A similar House bill failed last year in the Senate. One of the sticking points between both parties is qualified immunity.
“There was a lot of back and forth about that and some concerns made by the agency heads here about if there were to be a change in qualified immunity that it would probably negatively affect recruitment and retention for current and future officers,” Mayfield Police Chief Nathan Kent said.
Graves County Sheriff Jon Hayden echoed Kent’s point. He added many incentives that helped attract recruits into law enforcement, such as retirement benefits, have been eroded over the past several years which makes recruiting and retention difficult.
Sharing about those and other aspects which play into recruitment and policing is important to let federal delegates know what’s happening on the ground, Hayden said. “They want to know what you think about and what do you see. I believe Sen. Paul will go back and remember our conversations.”
The sheriff added that while other areas of the country may not show as much support for law enforcement, that isn’t the case in west Kentucky.
“We’re blessed to have the support of an overwhelming majority of people we serve here,” Hayden said.
Paul had started Tuesday with an agricultural roundtable in Hopkinsville, then traveled to Cadiz to discuss concerns about funding for Land Between the Lakes (LBL) with Trigg and Marshall county officials.
Regarding LBL, he said there has been confusion about the wildlife area’s recreational and educational budget would be reduced to zero. Land Between the Lakes officials denied the zeroing out of the budget in an April 24 Paducah Sun article.
Paul said his office and local leaders are in talks with the U.S. Forest Service, which took over managing LBL from the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1999 following the passage of the LBL Protection Act in 1998.
“We’re making sure that all the things they promised they would do are being done,” he said.
The senator also held a business meeting at Murray State University with several small business and hotel owners to talk about how they worked through the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul said they showed resilience to get through the financial hardships brought on through last year and into 2021, but now they are facing hiring issues.
“There are a lot of small businesses that want to hire people but they’re having trouble because they don’t offer more than the unemployment benefits,” he said.
Paul said as the country works to get beyond the pandemic that people will see wages rise. He also noted the reality of seeing prices for consumer goods rise, as well.
“That’s a potential problem,” he added. “I think there’s hope in the future and I think the number of COVID disease cases have gone down the past couple of weeks, so I think we’re looking on the other side of this.”