Felony expungement bill set for House vote after passing judiciary committee

01/13/2016 09:27 PM

FRANKFORT — A bill that would allow the expungement of class D felony convictions cleared a familiar hurdle on Wednesday, moving through the House Judiciary Committee en route to a possible vote on the chamber’s floor on Friday.

House Bill 40, which would allow felons convicted of a non-violent offense to seek expungement through a court after a five-year, crime-free waiting period, passed on a 15-3 vote, with Reps. Robert Benvenuti, Joe Fischer and House Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee voting against the measure. Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, voted “pass.”

The committee hearing came on the heels of a press conference announcing Kentucky Smart on Crime, a coalition of business, civil rights, faith and economic groups pushing for criminal justice reforms. Felony expungement topped the group’s legislative agenda for this year’s General Assembly.

Supporters say about 94,000 Kentuckians stand to benefit if the bill passes.

“The rate of recidivism would be greatly reduced if there was hope at the end of the tunnel for these people,” said Rep. David Floyd, a Bardstown Republican and co-sponsor of HB 40.

Rebecca Collett, a Harlan County native with a felony drug offense on her record; Russell Coleman, an attorney and spokesman of Kentucky Smart on Crime; Dave Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes also testified in support of the bill

A committee substitute passed Wednesday opens the door for subsequent class D felony expungements, giving the court discretion to make such actions on low-level felonies.

The proposal would also absolve businesses in judicial and administrative proceedings for hiring an ex-felon with an expunged record.

Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said he could not support the concept of expunging felony convictions in part due to the seriousness of the offenses covered.

He also questioned why businesses wouldn’t want a complete understanding of job candidates, noting that state law does not prohibit many companies from hiring felons.

“I’m unaware with few exceptions — nursing homes and those types of areas — I’m unaware of any Kentucky law that prevents an employer from hiring a felon,” Benvenuti said, “and I hope I’m right about that because I have advised clients in the past that I thought it would be appropriate for them to hire felons.”

Floyd said in many cases, businesses do not seriously consider applicants with felony records.

Adkisson said the bill’s legal shield for companies that hire those with expunged felonies is important.

“With protections built into this bill that has been proposed, with protections for employers and also in effect removing some of that liability for employers, we feel like it’s a good thing and a common-sense move that the business community would ultimately benefit from,” he said.

House Majority Whip Johnny Bill said some of the offenses cited by Benvenuti were erroneous, saying home burglaries are not class D felonies and stalking would be considered a violent offense.

He said HB 40 would help factories that are “starving to death for employees” and 18- and 19-year-olds that have made mistakes.

“How many people in this room, how many people on this committee at some time have not been in need of being redeemed, being able to have a second chance, and how many of us would make it in the future if all hope was taken away?” asked Bell, D-Glasgow.

“And I deal with individuals everyday of my life in my private work that come in that have felonies. The reason, in my opinion, that we have such a high degree of recidivism is because we don’t allow these people any redemption. We say, ‘You made a mistake, and we’re never going to redeem you for that.’”

The bill moves to the House floor, where it has passed in recent year. Last session, HB 40 passed 84-14.

House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said that the chamber would begin taking floor votes on Friday.

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.

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