Some lawmakers want to expand, revisit expungement law passed last year

02/03/2017 08:22 PM

A year after passing legislation that would allow the expungement of more than 60 Class D felonies, some lawmakers are hoping to revisit the issue in this year’s 30-day session.

Three bills have been filed so far. House Bill 86, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, and Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Neal, would make a handful of additional Class D felonies eligible for expungement while reducing the filing fee from $500 to $200. Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Jimmy Higdon, would open all non-violent, non-sexual Class D felonies that do not involve minors for expungement after a 10-year, crime-free waiting period.

House Bill 40, passed and signed into law last year, covers more than 60 low-level felonies, with expungement an option after a five-year waiting period. None of the bills introduced this year would allow felons to expunge more than one felony from their criminal record.

Higdon, R-Lebanon, praised last year’s expungement bill, but he said more deserve a chance to clean their records.

For example, Higdon says he knows a constituent who picked up a felony after fleeing police in his younger years has been “a model citizen” since. He knows of another man convicted of trafficking in marijuana who couldn’t find a job in Kentucky but now works for a power company in Florida.

“He has that felony hanging over his head,” Higdon said in a phone interview Friday. “He had to go to Florida to get a job, got down there after the hurricane, and they hired him because they needed people.”

“I consider it an economic development bill,” he added. “It helps people improve their economic status.”

That’s the same line of thinking that prompted Neal, D-Louisville, to file SB 72.

The bill would add some Class D felonies to the list of expungable offenses, such as low-level drug trafficking, selling drugs near a school, first-degree wanton endangerment, first-degree bail jumping and fraudulent use of a credit card. It would also allow convictions before 1975 that did not result in more than five years’ jail time or serious bodily harm to be expunged.

The idea behind expanding the number of expungable offenses “is to make productive citizens and not to make it more difficult for individuals to be productive,” Neal said.

“The intent is to encourage individual who have made a mistake and give them a competitive edge in the job market so that they continue their progress as being productive citizens,” he said in a phone interview Friday.

SB 72 would also lower the current expungement filing fee from $500 to $200. Neal called the current court costs for felony expungement “prohibitive” and “a disincentive” for some to wipe their records clean.

Whether the bills will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee remains to be seen. Higdon says he’s received favorable responses from his colleagues in the Senate when pitching SB 16 and he’s still working to get the legislation before the panel chaired by Sen. Whitney Westerfield.

“I feel positive about the bill’s chances in passing,” Higdon said. “I think his bill last year was great. I just think this one takes it another step. It makes you wait 10 years, which is a bill difference.”

But Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, says he’s still on the fence about revisiting the expungement issue after helping shepherd last year’s effort through the upper chamber.

Westerfield, who spoke on SB 16 since he’s familiar with it, said some Class D felonies, like low-level drug trafficking, would trouble him if including among expungable crimes in state law.

“I’m not saying no to the bill yet and I haven’t said yes either, and I’m still weighing whether or not that’s something I want to do,” he said in a phone interview. “Though there are some people that make some compelling arguments to have this done, expungement is not the top of my to-do list in the ’17 session.”

Westerfield said he didn’t see much enthusiasm within the Senate GOP caucus to reexamine expungement after last year’s session, “but I could be wrong.”

“Jimmy’s not the only one that’s asking for things like this and not the only one in my caucus so I could be wrong, but my sense is I don’t know that there is a great swell of support to keep revisiting it,” he said.

Owens, D-Louisville, could not be reached for comment on HB 86. Rep. Joe Fischer, a Fort Thomas Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, declined to comment on that piece of legislation because he had not read it nor had he spoken with Owens about it.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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