Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin has signed a bill that will allow some Class D felonies to be cleared from criminal records five years after a sentence is completed.

The felony expungement bill failed in the legislature for more than a decade largely because of Republican opposition from the Senate. But Bevin, a Republican, said he would support the bill on the campaign trail last year and has now followed through on the promise, signing it into law on Tuesday.

“It is critical that there is an opportunity for redemption, that there is an opportunity for second chances, because America is a land that was founded on these principles,” Bevin said.

The new policy would apply to 61 Class D felonies, which constitute about 70 percent of Class D felonies committed. Some of the most frequently committed offenses are failure to pay child support, possession of a controlled substance and theft.

Those who want to get their records cleared will need a clean record for five years after their sentences are complete and pay $500.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, a Democrat from Louisville, who has pushed the issue for years.

“I’m happy for these folks who now will be able to get their life on the right track, be productive and contribute significantly to this community and to the commonwealth,” he said.

Owens said the governor’s early endorsement of the bill was “critical” in its advancement through the legislature. For more than a decade, the expungement bill has passed in the Democratic-led state House.

Support in the Senate grew this year, as the issue picked up endorsements from the governor, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and a variety of organizations included in a newly minted Smart On Crime Coalition.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, helped shepherd the bill through the Senate. He said his position changed after hearing West Powell, an ex-convict who testified before lawmakers, talk about his troubles getting and keeping a job with a felony conviction for stealing car radios on his record.

“I don’t know that there was anything profound in the story itself that changed my mind, but something clicked and something made me think, you know, this guy’s done everything we asked,” Westerfield said.

The final version of the new law is significantly different from the original bill filed in the House.

The House approved a version that would allow those who completed sentences for Class D felonies to have their records expunged — removing their arrests and convictions from state records.

The final version would essentially reopen the case and vacate the sentence, and then expunge the record.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester and main architect of the new expungement policy, argued that with this version, job applicants would be able to truthfully say they’ve never been convicted of a felony under the law.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.