Saying it is hard for Kentuckians who committed low-level offenses to get a job or participate in their child’s school, state Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, is filing legislation to make it easier for certain felons to expunge their records.
The bill has been pre-filed for the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session and would allow those imprisoned for a non-violent or non-sexual crime with no prior offenses or pending felony case to erase that conviction from their record.
Ex-convicts could petition the courts to have their record cleared five years after either completing their sentence or probation.
By focusing on individuals with a Class D felony or misdemeanor, Owens hopes to show that those with smaller violations shouldn’t have to carry the stigma of a conviction for the rest of their lives.
“I’ve heard testimony from people who committed the offense 20-25 years ago and they still can’t get jobs and certain other things because they have a felony. We talk about compassion. We talk about second chances and redemption, and I think all of that is wrapped into this,” he says.
The legislation is related in some ways to a larger “second chance” movement in Kentucky such as restoring felon voting rights, a ban the box ordinance in Louisville and public schools considering reforms allowing parents with felonies to volunteer at their child’s public school.
Under Owens’s measure, those who have their records expunged would have their voting rights granted along with other civic privileges.
One early supporter of the bill is Sandra Williams of Lexington, who hopes the bill will help her niece, Amber Adams, get a better footing. In 2001, Williams turned in her then 19-year-old niece to police after Amber made dozens of unauthorized purchases using her mother’s credit card.
It seemed like a good idea at the time to scare the teenager straight, but Williams says over a decade later her now 31-year-old niece is a responsible citizen who has been turned into an outcast.
“We expect them to live under a bridge or pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but we took their straps,” she says.
It’s unclear how Owens’s measure will fare in the state legislature next year given past resistance to other bills aimed at helping Kentucky felons. Few lawmakers were willing to handicap the bill before the session begins on January 7, but some indicated they’re open to learning more about the proposal.
“I have some reservations about what exactly would be expunged and I don’t yet know which charges I’d be comfortable with,” says state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopskinsville, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I can say a few of the ones I wouldn’t want it to apply to would be violent offenses, sex crimes and drug trafficking. That would be on the no-go list for me.”
Other key provisions of Owens’s bill include limiting the ability of companies to report criminal history information and the ability of prospective employers from inquiring about sealed records.
The state could fine those businesses up to $5,000 for failing to provide updated records or removing any information that is inaccurate, expunged or restricted.