Politics

Kentuckians who have committed certain felony offenses would be able to clear their records under a bill that passed the state Senate Tuesday. The bill’s passage marked a milestone for the Senate, which has largely ignored the issue for more than a decade.

The new policy would apply to 61 Class D felonies, which constitute about 70 percent of Class D felonies committed.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, shepherded the bill through the Senate.

“You have the biggest-ticket items, the things that are the biggest impediments to the people being able to get back out there and find work, provide for their families, contribute to this commonwealth,” he said.

The list includes failure to pay child support, possession of a controlled substance and theft, among others.

Ex-offenders would only be able to have their records cleared five years after the completion of a sentence. Judges would have discretion over whether to clear the record.

Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union, voted against the bill, saying that business owners should have the right to know whether employees have felonies on their records.

“Is that the government’s decision to say you don’t have a right to know that? No, I have to beg to differ. They do have the right to know it, and those are the people who should be making the decision,” he said.

The bill has already passed the House, though significant changes were made to the legislation before the Senate approved it.

The issue has been raised in the General Assembly for more than a decade but received little support in the Republican-led Senate. Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, voted in favor of the bill, which he called “consistent and conservative.”

“I believe it’s time to get government out of the way and put people back to work,” he said.

Conservatives are new to support the expungement bill. Gov. Matt Bevin threw his support behind the issue earlier this session and during last year’s gubernatorial campaign.

The bill also received support from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Kentucky Chamber President Dave Adkisson said the bill would give people a second chance to return to the workforce.

“Our view on workforce is that we need all hands on deck,” Adkisson said in a blog post on the chamber’s website.

The House will need to pass the Senate’s version of the bill in the next two business days for it to move on to the governor’s desk.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.