A bill that would allow Kentuckians to clear class D felonies from their criminal records cleared a House legislative committee on Wednesday.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said the bill will likely pass his chamber later this week, but how the bill will fare in the Republican-led state Senate continues to be a mystery.
Felony expungement has long been a goal of social justice organizations and Democrats, but the issue has recently gathered the support of the business community and some Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Matt Bevin.
Russell Coleman, a spokesman for the Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition, said that support has grown because of how deeply drug addiction has permeated Kentucky.
“It is affecting every community, every town and that’s just changed our perspective on how we address these issues,” said Coleman, who previously served as a legal adviser and top aid to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The bill would allow people to clear class D felonies from their records five years after completing their sentences with no more convictions. Those convicted of violent offenses and sex crimes would be excluded.
The bill has cleared the Democrat-led state House for over 10 years with growing support — last year the bill passed with 84 out of 100 votes.
Senate Republicans, who have refused to pass the legislation in past sessions, will likely decide the fate of the bill.
Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, has warmed up to the issue but raised questions about the mechanics of the legislation.
“I think people want to get to the same point on expungement,” Stivers said. “Really to me it’s not a question of expungement. It’s how you deal with that sentence appropriately to give that individual a second chance,” Stivers said.
Federal law would still require those with an expunged felony to report the conviction if signing a federal document like a loan, said Coleman.
“This is not experimental, this is not something that has been tried and utilized elsewhere,” said Coleman, who also served as an FBI agent.
Kentucky only allows misdemeanors to be expunged.
One aspect of expungement — voting rights, which are barred from ex-felons in Kentucky — was the subject of an executive order last year by then-Gov. Steve Beshear. Bevin rescinded the voting rights expansion soon after taking office, saying the issue should be settled by legislators.
Democratic Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes threw her support behind the issue on Wednesday, saying the bill would help Kentucky businesses.
“We have individuals who because of a mistake that they have made in their past aren’t able to be out there and be a part of the workforce that Kentucky needs to keep our economy growing in the right direction,” Grimes said.