Politics & Government

Kentucky House makes small changes to felon re-entry bill

Staff file photo

The Kentucky legislature is tweaking a bill that would make it easier for felons to re-enter society after their release from prison and gain work experience as they serve their sentences.

As originally written, Senate Bill 120 would remove Kentucky’s automatic ban on felons seeking professional and occupational licenses from state boards, instead giving the boards discretion to set their own standards.

The House Judiciary Committee has amended that language for people convicted of Class A or Class B felonies or crimes that require them to register as sex offenders. In those instances, the bill now would impose a “rebuttable presumption” that a connection exists between the past offenses and the licenses the felons seek, potentially creating an additional hurdle for them to jump.

The House Judiciary Committee also restored Attorney General Andy Beshear to the Criminal Justice Council, a policy advisory group within the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. The Senate bill originally dropped Beshear from the council.

The House panel voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the felon re-entry bill. Hours later, the full House approved it by an 85 to 9 vote. One of the nine opponents, Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said “We’re talking about criminals. And I’m not in favor of putting them in front of the line of people who obey the law.”

Other parts of the bill would let some low-level felons hold jobs while incarcerated, either through companies invited to operate inside prisons or work-release programs at local jails; reduce the time that compliant offenders serve on probation or parole; prevent defendants from being jailed because they are unable to pay court costs; and create a pilot project similar to drug court to supervise newly released felons with addictions.

“We just want to make sure that if you’ve done what we asked you to do in a Kentucky prison, when you get back out, that we’ve offered a path to success for you to take advantage of,” the bill’s sponsor, Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, said in February.

The bill now returns to the Senate, which must consider the changes made by the House.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics