Lawmakers send felony expungement, marriage license and other bills to governor

The Kentucky House of Representatives passed HB 535 at the Capitol on April 1, 2016.
The Kentucky House of Representatives passed HB 535 at the Capitol on April 1, 2016.

A bill that would allow Kentuckians to erase from their records certain non-violent felonies and another one to create a one-form marriage license to resolve a controversy involving same-sex marriage are now headed to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk.

The Republican governor, in his first year in office, has indicated that he will sign both measures into law.

The felony expungement and marriage license bills were among several state lawmakers considered Friday on the 59th day of the 60-day legislative session that began Jan. 5. The session is to end April 12.

The House voted 84-13 Friday to concur with changes made by the state Senate to House Bill 40, the expungement measure.

The full Senate approved the bill 33-5 on March 29. Those changes included reducing the number of Class D felonies eligible for expungement from 350 to 61. All applicable felonies are non-violent, including bigamy, filing an illegal lien, illegal sale and transport of alcoholic beverages, and theft of mail.

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 vacating the conviction, 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.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, said the state legislative action is “a positive step forward for criminal justice reform in Kentucky, and as someone who has led the fight for similar reforms on a federal level, I applaud Kentucky’s legislators for finding a way to give people a second chance.”

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said, “This legislation impacts children as it helps any parents with a criminal history get back to work after they have completed court-ordered requirements.”

The Senate also gave final passage Friday to Senate Bill 216, dealing with marriage licenses.

Under it, Kentucky would have a single marriage license for straight and gay couples. The proposed form would allow applicants to identify themselves as bride, groom or spouse and would not require the county clerk’s signature. That could be done by a deputy clerk.

Controversy over the state’s marriage license erupted last summer when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. She spent five days in jail, citing her religious objections.

SB 216 calls for a single marriage license, in contrast to a proposal approved by the Republican-led Senate earlier this year that called for separate forms for gay and straight couples.

“This is a great day for our commonwealth,” Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman said in an email. “By working in a bi-partisan way with all affected communities, we were able to find a common sense solution that treats everyone with dignity and fairness.”

The Senate also gave final passage Friday to House Bill 304, the state’s Road Fund bill.

Another bill headed to Bevin’s desk is a measure that would provide incentives to AK Steel and also give Kentucky State Police a raise. House Bill 535 renews and extends existing economic development incentives to entice investment and job creation at AK Steel in northeastern Kentucky. The bill would provide assistance to the 550 employees laid off by AK Steel. The bill allows the restart of the blast furnace and rehiring of those employees. The Senate tacked on a provision that would give Kentucky State Police raises. The House on Thursday concurred with the Senate’s changes.

Meanwhile Friday, the House approved a bill that would give the Kentucky court system an extra $60 million over the next two years to avoid what the chief justice says would be a crippling deficit.

The Senate did not vote on the bill on Friday.

The major bill pending is the executive branch budget. Both House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers said Friday the two chambers still remain at an impasse in trying to reach a compromise on a $21 billion, two-year spending plan for the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics