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Kentucky House Approves Sentencing Reform For Low-Level Felonies

The state House of Representatives approved a bill on Friday that would create a new class of criminal punishment called “gross misdemeanor.”

Included in the new category would be three crimes that are currently Class D felonies: flagrant non-support (not paying child support), second degree forgery and second degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

Rep. Lew Nicholls, a Democrat from Greenup, said people who commit those crimes shouldn’t be charged with felonies, which could hinder future opportunities.

“Once they get a felony record, then that really creates a bad problem for them in trying to get a job for the rest of their lives,” he said.

The bill would also establish an “earned parole” policy. Those convicted of non-violent, non-sexual Class D felonies or gross misdemeanors would be paroled after serving 15 percent or two months of a sentence, whichever is longer.

According to the bill’s fiscal note estimate, it would save the state about $20 million per year in incarceration costs.

Rep. Jeff Taylor, a Democrat from Hopkinsville, said the bill would give those convicted of not paying child support a more realistic opportunity to pay up.

“It gets gentlemen and ladies while they are incarcerated, while their child support continues to escalate, the ability to get out and work,” he said.

According to the Department of Corrections, an average of 202 inmates were incarcerated each year since 2011 for the Class D felonies that would become gross misdemeanors under the legislation.

Rep. Bam Carney, a Republican from Campbellsville, said he voted against the bill because he worried about letting dangerous criminals out on parole, citing the death of Richmond Police Officer Daniel Ellis, who was killed in the line of duty last year.

“The person who killed Officer Ellis in Richmond, Kentucky had over 50 arrests, and he was still out on the street. I feel like I have to cast a nay vote in honor of his family,” Carney said.

The measure passed the House 65-30 and now goes to the Senate.

Clarification: A previous version of this story referred to the new classification as "acute misdemeanor" rather than "gross misdemeanor." That was based on an error made by the state House in identifying the bill under consideration Friday.