Governor signs Seth’s Law, advancing mental health reforms in KY

For Immediate Release

FRANKFORT, Ky., April 15, 2024 – In a significant step forward for mental health reform in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear has signed into law House Bill 385, known as Seth’s Law. It is named in honor of the late Seth Stevens, former attorney for the Kentucky Judicial Commission on Mental Health (KJCMH).

Crafted from KJCMH recommendations, Seth’s Law aims to improve guardianship and competency proceedings across the commonwealth. The bill was signed April 9 after the Kentucky General Assembly passed HB 385 earlier in its session with overwhelming bipartisan support. The 2024 Regular Session of the General Assembly will conclude today (April 15).

Kentucky Supreme Court Deputy Chief Justice Debra Hembree Lambert, chair of the commission, said she takes pride in the cooperative efforts of the KJCMH, which have led to two significant changes in state law.

“Seth’s Law will result in fewer citizens needing to be placed under state guardianship to access health care,” Justice Lambert said. “The other portion of the law will address significant delays in criminal trials by streamlining competency evaluation processes at our state facilities. Seth’s Law will result in more prompt evaluations and less delay in these criminal cases.”

The section of Seth’s Law focusing on guardianship reform was modeled after similar legislation enacted three years ago in Indiana.

“I am very happy to have worked with my county attorney and the Administrative Office of the Courts on a solution to ensure that patients get the care they need more quickly and safely,” said Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser of Taylor Mill, the primary sponsor of the legislation. “HB 385 ensures that a close friend who meets requirements can step in to make health care decisions in the event that an individual is deemed by their physician to lack decisional capacity or has not executed an advanced directive.”

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander, a member of the KJCMH, emphasized the significance of allowing a trusted friend to make health care decisions rather than relying on an appointed state guardian or potentially an estranged relative, in ensuring equitable care. “Some individuals with serious mental illness are estranged from their families due to their behavioral health needs,” he said.

Kenton County Attorney Stacy Tapke, also a KJCMH member, added that Seth’s Law emerged from an effort aimed at exploring alternatives to adult guardianship.

“By empowering significant others or friends to act in such capacities, Seth’s Law not only serves the individual better but also eases the burden on the court system,” Tapke said. “I extend my gratitude to Rep. Moser for sponsoring this bill and to the justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court, the members of the KJCMH and the participants of its working groups for their collaborative efforts toward this practical solution.”

Other sections of Seth’s Law focus on competency evaluations ordered by a court. Unlike the current law, which mandated evaluations at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC), HB 385 will allow outpatient evaluations in various settings, including jails and community facilities. The diversification of evaluation locations is geared toward alleviating the strain on KCPC. With a waitlist averaging 12 months, capacity issues have hindered timely assessments, affecting defendants and the judicial system.

“The change in competency evaluations will eliminate the gridlock in the current system and allow individuals to receive needed services more quickly and thus ensure victims receive justice in a timely manner,” Rep. Moser said.

Statistics indicate that approximately 70% of defendants evaluated at KCPC are deemed competent to stand trial. By implementing outpatient evaluations, those defendants should undergo assessment within a significantly shorter timeframe of three to five weeks.

KCPC Director Koleen Slusher, another KJCMH member, testified before two legislative committees about HB 385, telling committee members that the new approach to competency evaluations is modeled after a longtime Tennessee statute.

The bill honors the memory of Seth Stevens, a passionate advocate for mental health reform, who died by suicide in 2023.

“Seth’s commitment and profound insight, expertise and compassion for mental health advocacy helped shape the commission,” program administrator Shawna Mitchell said. “His absence leaves a void, but his legacy serves as an enduring inspiration for the commission.”

Established in August 2022, the KJCMH meets quarterly and is divided into three committees, each focusing on one of these topics: criminal justice, civil and family justice, and treatment and access. Each committee has workgroups on juvenile justice; competency; prearrest/diversion; reentry; dependency, neglect and abuse; domestic violence; guardianship and commitment; strengthening community responses; court responses; and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The public is invited to become involved with the KJCMH. To learn more about the commission or join a workgroup, please visit or email

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
If you or someone you know is in crisis, reach out to a mental health professional by texting or calling the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This free service is accessible 24/7 and offers confidential support from trained counselors who listen, provide assistance and offer additional resources.

Administrative Office of the Courts
The AOC is based in Frankfort and provides administrative support for the KJCMH. As the operations arm of the Judicial Branch (Kentucky Court of Justice), the AOC supports the activities of nearly 3,300 employees and 413 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks and executes the Judicial Branch budget.