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Kentucky Senate passes felony expungement bill

February 27, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — More Kentuckians could apply to have their low-level felony convictions erased from their records under a bill that won overwhelming support in the state Senate on Wednesday.

The bill aimed at expanding the number of Class D felony offenses eligible for expungement reflects society’s belief in giving people “second chances,” Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon said.

“A felony conviction in Kentucky is like a life sentence. It follows you around all your life,” Higdon said before the GOP-led Senate passed his bill on a 35-2 vote, sending it to the House.

The measure is a follow-up to a Kentucky law enacted in recent years that lists about 60 low-level felonies eligible for expungement. So far, a few thousand expungements have been granted, but it represents a fraction of the number of Kentuckians who have pleaded guilty to low-level felonies in recent years and served no jail time, Higdon said.

Those convictions prevent people from voting, block job opportunities and prevent them from obtaining professional licenses, he said.

While extending the opportunity for seeking expungements to considerably more Class D felonies, the bill wouldn’t apply to those convicted of public corruption, sex offenses, crimes against children or violent crimes resulting in death or serious injuries.

The bill has other safeguards, Higdon said.

Prosecutors could object to expungement applications and present arguments at hearings along with crime victims. Whether to grant an expungement would be left up to a judge.

For an expungement to be granted, there has to be “clear and convincing evidence” that the applicant is leading a law-abiding life and that the step would be “consistent” with public safety.

The bill calls for a 10-year waiting period before a felony could be expunged. Senators amended the measure to give people up to 18 months to pay off the $500 application fee for an expungement. The amendment reflected concerns that some people wouldn’t be able to afford the fee.

In voting for the bill, Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal said it represents the “next step” in reviewing expungement policies. But he said it doesn’t go far enough.

“What we’re really trying to do with the expungement bill is to create a new lease on life for individuals,” he said. “And I’m not sure we’re really making it broad enough.”

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The legislation is Senate Bill 57.