Former University of Kentucky basketball star Cameron Mills urged a Senate panel Thursday to approve a bill that would let people convicted of some Class D felonies erase their criminal records.
Mills, a preacher and frequent Christian witness to people in jail, referred to House Bill 40 as “second chance” legislation, saying it would give some felons another opportunity at getting jobs and housing. Mills, who played on UK’s 1996 and 1998 NCAA champion teams, is founder of Cameron Mills Ministries.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 10-1 vote but only after making several major changes to it.
The changes included reducing the number of Class D felonies eligible for expungement from 350 to 61. All felonies are nonviolent, including bigamy, filing an illegal lien, illegal sale and transport of alcoholic beverages, and theft of mail.
Committee chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said the revised bill would cover about 70 percent of the state’s Class D felons.
The revised bill would require a five-year waiting period before a felony could be expunged, set up a hearing to give a judge discretion on granting the expungement, and give a felon only one opportunity to expunge the record.
State law now allows people to petition a court to have misdemeanors and other non-felony violations expunged from all public records five years after they complete their sentences.
HB 40, which the House approved 80-11 on Jan. 15, would expand that right to those convicted of Class D felonies — the lowest level of felony, punishable by one to five years in prison — with exceptions, including sex offenses, crimes against children or the elderly, human trafficking and public corruption.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and has been debated in the state legislature for more than 10 years. Owens said his proposal would affect about 100,000 people.
After the committee hearing, Owens said he was “hopeful” about the bill’s chances but said he had heard that some Senate members want to extend the waiting period to 10 years for an expungement.
That would be “a deal-breaker,” he said.
Mills told the Senate committee Thursday that he met earlier in the day with staff for Gov. Matt Bevin and was told that Bevin supports the measure.
Coleman emphasized that the bill was “not a get-out-of-jail free card.” He said felons would have to go through several steps before having their records expunged.
Adkisson said the state’s business leadership has changed its mind on the issue because it thinks the measure will improve Kentucky’s available work force. A felony record often prohibits otherwise qualified candidates from getting hired.
Westerfield and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, acknowledged that they had been reluctant to embrace the measure but could support the amended version of the bill.
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said he believes in redemption but thinks the waiting period to clear the record should be 10 years. He cast the only vote against the bill.
The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration. Westerfield said it might end up in a conference committee of lawmakers from both chambers who will try to iron out differences between the House and Senate.