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Felony Expungement Bill Gathering Support, But Hurdles Remain

Kentucky state Capitol
Kentucky state Capitol

This might be the year that Kentucky allows people to clear Class D felony charges from their records. But supporters still have a hurdle or two to clear in the state Senate.

The issue has long been a priority for Democrats in Frankfort, and the state House has passed the bill by wide margins in recent years.

But this year, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is on board, as is a coalition of Kentucky’s largest chambers of commerce and social justice organizations.

“I’m calling on our Senate in particular: Take this up with seriousness,” Bevin said during a news conference on Wednesday. “I will sign that legislation, I will shepherd this to the degree that I must.”

Under the proposal, Kentuckians could expunge a felony conviction five years after their sentence is completed. Those who had been convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes or crimes against children or the elderly would not be eligible.

The bill would also protect employers who hire former felons by helping shield them from lawsuits alleging negligent hiring.

The Senate hasn’t taken up the bill in past years, but Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, who has long opposed it, said he recognizes that “there is a general bipartisan feeling that we ought to do something on expungement.”

But Thayer, who has great influence in deciding what bills get called up for a vote on the Senate floor, said he’s still wary.

“I want to make sure the level of crime and the time since it was committed are acceptable before I’m going to commit to voting for it,” Thayer said.

Senate President Robert Stivers was also noncommittal.

“It needs a lot of thought. I’m not saying it has trouble, but I’m saying it needs a lot of thought,” Stivers said.

Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, a vice president at Greater Louisville Inc., the city's chamber of commerce, said the bill will benefit employers.

“There is no information that can be introduced that an employee ever committed a crime. It’s ironclad, and what’s in the past stays there,” Davasher-Wisdom said.

Only misdemeanors can be expunged in Kentucky now. Supporters say the bill would make about 94,000 Kentuckians eligible to have their records cleared.

Rebecca Collett, a master’s student in social work at the University of Louisville, said she struggled to find employment because of a drug-related felony conviction — despite being sober for seven years.

“It’s only common sense to provide these people with alternatives that ensure better outcomes not only for people like me, but our community as a whole,” Collett said.

“The time has come to update our laws.”