A bill that would allow nonviolent Class D felonies to be expunged from criminal records for first-time offenders moved through a House committee Wednesday.
But some Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee questioned aspects of House Bill 64 they say could create a new protected class of individuals who cannot be discriminated against because of expunged felony charges.
Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, said the legislation aims to reintegrate in society those who have served sentences for their first Class D felony convictions, except for sexual offenses and abuse against the elderly and children. The committee passed the bill 13-8.
HB 64 would let ex-felons who qualify petition the court to have such convictions expunged from their records five years after serving their sentences.
That would restore a number of rights and privileges — such as voting, possessing a firearm and chaperoning children at school functions — that 95,000 Kentuckians have lost, Owens said.
“I can’t imagine a society that would require somebody who has been hit with a Class D felony to, for the rest of their life, be doomed to a life of unemployment or underemployment,” he said while voting for HB 64. “That’s exactly what we have.”
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott and Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown also spoke on behalf of HB 64, as did two convicted felons who would be eligible to have their record expunged should the legislation pass.
“How can one support their families, pay taxes, become productive members of society if this stays on your record for your entire life?” said Wayne Saylor, who said he was convicted of cocaine possession and has had difficulty finding work since he was laid off from IBM in 2007.
“I’m unable to chaperone my kids’ schools. I’ve been denied car insurance even though I haven’t even had a parking ticket since ’85,” Saylor said. “I enjoy the outdoors and would love to take my kids hunting like my grandmother did with me, but I can’t.”
HB 64 would protect those with expunged felony convictions from discrimination, primarily in employment and professional licensing, drawing ire from some Republicans on the committee.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he has supported previous efforts to allow records to be expunged of nonviolent Class D felonies, “but this bill is much, much more than that.” Hoover was one of eight Republicans who voted against HB 64.
Other Republicans on the committee also had misgivings about HB 64.
Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah, said while he thinks expunging nonviolent Class D felonies is “the right thing to do,” he believes it is unconstitutional to restore a felon’s voting rights by law without amending the Kentucky Constitution.
Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, raised a concern that banks and other financial institutions should be aware of applicants who’ve been convicted of theft.