Felony expungement bill heading to governor, but House sponsor says his work on issue isn't done

04/02/2016 01:47 PM

FRANKFORT — Those convicted of a number of low-level felonies, such as burglary, theft and drug possession, will soon be able to have their convictions vacated and records expunged after House Bill 40 reached final passage in the General Assembly on Friday.

While the legislation originally set out exemptions for Class D felonies ineligible for expungement, such as sex crimes and crimes against the infirm, the Senate amended the bill to set out certain convictions that can be set aside no sooner than five years after an individual completes his or her sentence, including probation or parole.

Those crimes include third-degree burglary, drug possession, prescription forgery, theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, stealing credit card information, stealing computer data, filing falsified financial records, conspiracy to promote gambling, bigamy and selling real estate without a license, among several others. Multiple Class D felonies stemming from a single incident are also be eligible for expungement under HB 40.

Rep. Darryl Owens, a Louisville Democrat who sponsored HB 40, said he expected the legislation to ultimately pass this session given the groundswell of support across the political spectrum for felony expungement.

“The momentum built,” he told Pure Politics, “and this is a result of it.”

Now more than Kentuckians will “be able to get their life back,” he said.

“They’re going to be able to make positive steps towards the future, which they couldn’t do prior to this bill,” Owens said.

“They’ll be able to get student loans. They’ll be able to get housing vouchers. They’ll be able to get a job, so I’m just happy for all of those people who have been so negatively impacted by a felony conviction, who have been unable to move forward in their life and now can.”

Gov. Matt Bevin, a supporter of the concept, indicated that he’s eager to sign HB 40, tweeting Friday that he’s “delighted” the bill is coming to the first floor of the Capitol.

HB 40 also stipulates that a conviction cannot be vacated if the person had a prior felony expunged, been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor within five years of the petition or been charged in a pending court case. The legislation also requires a hearing no later than 120 days after the petition is filed and the Administrative Office of the Courts to maintain an index of expunged felonies accessible only to certify whether a person had a previous felony expunged.

Owens and Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, have led the charge for felony expungement legislation in recent sessions, and the Louisville Democrat complimented Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, as “a giant of a man in moving it forward in the Senate.”

But for Owens, his work on the issue isn’t quite finished.

He said he would like to expand the Class D felonies eligible for a vacated sentence as proposed in the House’s version of HB 40. The $500 filing fee is also a concern, he said.

“What this means is obviously I’ve got my work cut out for the next session to include more Class D felonies,” he said. “Additionally, they put a $500 fee to do that. You know, you’re talking about people who don’t have a job and then they’re going to have to pay $500 to get their record expunged.

“So, you know, I don’t think it’s a better bill. It’s a bill that we need to have because it’s always easier to amend something than to try to get this through the legislative process again. We’ve been at this a long time, so I’m glad to be where we are.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.