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March 15, 2019 10:58am

Major expungement bill heads to the governor’s desk

A major expungement bill cleared its final hurdle last night in the legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s office. Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Senator Jimmy Higdon, will increase eligibility for expungement and increase access to expungement. This bill is deeply important for removing barriers to workforce participation and lowering recidivism rates in Kentucky.

Expungement is a process by which an individual can have criminal offenses removed from their record. For many individuals, having a criminal record prevents—and in some instances legally prohibits—them from finding gainful employment, pursuing a career, and becoming productive, self-sufficient citizens. This is especially true for individuals with Class D felonies on their record. Having individuals in our community who want to work but can’t because of mistakes they made in their past is harmful not only for those individuals and their families but for our economy as a whole. It contributes to Kentucky’s low workforce participation rate and drives up recidivism and incarceration rates.

Thanks to legislation supported by GLI and passed into law in 2016, Kentucky began addressing this problem in earnest. House Bill 40 allowed for the expungement of Class D felonies from criminal records and created new opportunities for thousands of Kentuckians to find employment. Though GLI strongly supported this legislation and was, in fact, the first business organization in the Commonwealth to back Class D felony expungement, House Bill 40 had several flaws—namely, it excluded too many Class D felony offenses and limited access by setting application fees too high.

Senate Bill 57 continues the important work started by House Bill 40 by addressing that bill’s shortcomings. First, it addresses the eligibility problem by opening up numerous other non-violent Class D felonies for expungement, including offenses committed prior to 1975. Because of changes to the penal code in 1974, these offenses were left unaddressed by House Bill 40. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it addresses the accessibility problem by lowering application fees and creating flexibility in how individuals can pay the fees. Senate Bill 57 drops the $500 application fee established by House Bill 40 to a total of $300. Under this legislation, $50 is due at the time of applying. After a court rules in favor of the expungement, the individual can either pay the remaining $250 and receive their expungement or they can pay it off in an installment plan of up to 18 months and receive the expungement then. The $500 application fee has been one of the most substantial barriers to accessing expungement in Kentucky. Lowering the fee and creating more flexibility to pay it was one of GLI’s top priorities for 2019.

Senate Bill 57 will have a significant and positive impact on the economy and workforce of Greater Louisville, and we sincerely appreciate all the hard work that Senator Higdon—a member of the Louisville Metro Caucus—put into it. We also want to give a shout out to House Judiciary Chair Jason Petrie and Representatives Ed Massey and Jason Nemes (another Louisville Metro Caucus member) for their work on this bill in the House.

Of course, much more work remains to be done. In 2020, GLI will be working to enact further improvements to expungement in Kentucky in order to continue developing our workforce, creating opportunity, and growing our regional economy.