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Felony Expungement Legislation Wins New Friends

Josh James

Twin House and Senate bills clearing the way for the expungement of low-level felonies in Kentucky have a new advocate. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce held a press event Wednesday in Frankfort lining up behind the legislation.

Kentucky Chamber  president Dave Atkisson says concerns about workforce shortages have led to an unlikely alliance on the issue.

"The social justice advocates, those who ave felt like as a matter of fairness that we ought to clean the record of someone who had a low level, nonviolent felony on their record, that group has met with the business community now," Adkisson said. "And the business community, because of its concerns about getting a capable workforce with the economy improving, etc... those two groups have found common ground."

The legislation would permit individuals with one-time, non-violent Class D felonies - things like writing a bad check or a minor drug offense - to have the charge permanently erased from their records, a move supporters say would grant over 94,000 Kentuckians easier access to employment.

And the bill has another high-profile backer in Gov. Matt Bevin, who told reporters he wants to see it married up with legislation restoring voting rights for non-violent former felons.

"There is the potential, and this is part of the debate that I think will happen and it's going to be up our legislators, to bring these into a single bill, and frankly I would encourage us to consider doing so," he said.

Bevin rescinded an executive order by Gov. Steve Beshear doing just that, on the grounds that the change did not go through the proper legislative channels and deserves a more permanent root in state law.

But support from conservative quarters doesn't guarantee passage in the GOP-controlled Senate. Previous attempts to allow individuals to petition the courts to remove the blemish from their record have sailed through the House of Representatives in years past only to meet with resistance in the upper chamber. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer holds out a possibility he could warm to the measure  - but not without seeing the details.

"I want to make sure the level of crime and the time since it was committed are acceptable before I'm going to commit to voting for it," Thayer said. The Georgetown Republican holds similar reservations about voting rights restoration, which he believes must come packaged with a waiting period - an addition that has sunk past efforts to put the bill on the governor's desk.

Expungement is currently limited by law in Kentucky to misdemeanor convictions unrelated to sex crimes or crimes against children.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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