Felony expungement bill passes House on 80-11 vote

01/15/2016 01:38 PM

UPDATED FRANKFORT — A bill that would allow most class D felonies to be expunged from a criminal’s record following a five-year waiting period cleared the state House of Representatives on an 80-11 vote on Friday.

House Bill 40 now goes to the Senate, where its chances of passing are unclear. Senate President Robert Stivers said the issue has generated “a lot of interest and discussion” in his chamber and the legislation will not “die in the mode of transit down here.”

While the measure passed overwhelmingly, opponents raised concerns on the nature of felony offenses that could be expunged if HB 40 becomes law as well as the ability of law enforcement and other agencies to access expunged records.

For Rep. Darryl Owens, the bill’s sponsor, the matter comes down to redemption for those who have committed low-level felonies.

“I believe this legislation’s time has come,” Owens, D-Louisville, said on the House floor. “There is an overwhelming and growing army of support for expunging the records of people who commit a class D felony and helping these individuals become successful, productive, employable citizens of the commonwealth.”

Rep. Robert Benvenuti took umbrage with the description that felonies eligible for expungement in HB 40 are low-level and non-violent. He suggested the legislation goes too far in that regard.

He ticked off a number of offenses, like third-degree assault, third-degree arson and intimidating a witness, that could be expunged if the legislation becomes law.

“Let’s not look at this in broad brushes,” said Benvenuti, R-Lexington. “Let’s make thoughtful decisions based on the facts because you can expunge somebody’s records, but you can’t expunge facts. You can’t expunge behavior. That’s the reality.”

The bill exempts sexual offenses, crimes against children and adult abuse from expungement, and a floor amendment passed Friday also disallows the expungement of possession of child pornography, abuse of public office and prostitution felonies.

Those looking to have their felonies expunged must remain crime-free for five years after the conclusion of their sentences and petition a court for such action, with prosecutors and victims allowed to testify against them, under HB 40. Companies that hire an individual with an expunged record would not be liable for negligence in the legislation, a provision that was key to earning support from business groups like the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Although the bill counts a wide range of supporters, some had internal debates on how they would vote on HB 40 once it hit the floor.

Rep. Brad Montell said neither side of the issue “is a perfect position,” adding that he believes lawmakers should be tough on crime but many in his district have shared their personal struggles with friends and family convicted of class D felonies and stand to benefit from the bill if it becomes law.

“This is not an easy vote for me as I know for many in here it’s not, and I know it’s not a perfect solution,” said Montell, R-Shelbyville. “But I believe that the good that we’ll see for society that this bill will bring outweighs the potential bad, and I am compelled this morning to support House Bill 40.”

Some have questioned whether passing an expungement bill would restore civil rights for those who have their records cleared.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said expunged felonies would restore state civil rights like voting for offenders, but he’s unsure whether they would be allowed to own firearms since that’s a federal issue.

“In the events these laws were expunged, would the federal law prohibit people from owning, legally owning firearms?” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said after the House adjourned. “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, also raised questions about an individual’s civil rights following a felony expungement.

He said he’s not opposed to the theory of giving people second chances after a period of time, “but it’s the method and manner of how you do it so you don’t open Pandora’s box to more problems than you already have.”

“I think you need to be very thoughtful about how you expunge,” Stivers told reporters after the Senate adjourned. “Should it be an expungement and a vacating of a sentence, or should we be just watching what the House is doing on expungements of felonies?”

Pure Politics reporter Don Weber contributed to this report.


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