SB 57, which is scheduled for a vote in the House tomorrow, would take another modest but important step toward making it easier for Kentuckians with a record to get a clean slate, find employment and move toward economic stability. The bill is a bright spot for criminal justice policy in Kentucky during a legislative session where many bills create new crimes and increase criminal penalties rather than needed reforms.
Felony expungement enables Kentuckians who made mistakes in the past and who have served their sentence to have a second chance. With the passage of HB 40 in 2016, Kentuckians with some felony convictions became eligible to have their records expunged for the first time; previously only misdemeanor convictions were eligible. This historic legislation was an important step forward, but the felony offenses eligible for expungement are limited and the cost to an individual is $500. These are among the likely reasons the number of people benefiting from felony expungement thus far (in the thousands) is low compared to the number of Kentuckians with a felony record (in the hundreds of thousands).
The version of SB 57 being voted on tomorrow would expand felony expungement eligibility in modest but important ways: The bill would:
- Lower the cost of expungement to $200 — a $50 application fee and an additional $150 to complete the expungement — and allow for payment of the expungement fee by an installment plan.
- Add a new offense related to drug paraphernalia to the list of felonies that are eligible for expungement after five years.
- Create additional categories of offenses that are eligible for expungement after 10 years, including most Class D felonies (the lowest level) not previously eligible, excluding sex offenses and those resulting in serious bodily injury, among other categories. The House Speaker has filed a floor amendment to make the waiting period for these offenses just 5 years instead of 10, which would be a positive change.
The House version of SB 57 includes important changes to the Senate version making it easier to have a felony expunged. The Senate version had a much higher expungement fee ($450 plus a $50 application fee). Also, though judges already have the discretion to deny expungement for several reasons including for the safety of the public, the Senate version would put too high a legal burden on the applicant to prove their worthiness of expungement. It would weaken the impact of the bill if these problematic aspects come back as it moves through the process.
For many Kentuckians, a felony record is a barrier to employment and economic security for their families. More Kentuckians with records deserve a second chance, and SB 57 is an important step forward.