With criminal justice reform on the minds of leaders across the state, representatives are showing they are on the same page with the passage of two House bills that address expungement and probation compliance credit measures, with no opposition.
Just this month, House Bills 327 and 284 passed in the House of Representatives and will now move on to the State Senate.
HB 327, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, is one bill which would require automatic expungement of acquittals and dismissals of criminal charges under Kentucky law.
"In Kentucky, right now, if you are acquitted or dismissed for a criminal charge, it stays on your record for the rest of your life," Bratcher said. "It hampers your employment, your advancement opportunities and it is always on your record."
He went on to explain that HB 327 says from this day forward, once it is passed, that if someone is acquitted or dismissed of a criminal charge, the state has thirty days to purge the charge from an individual's record.
"This is really an issue with peoples employment," he said. "I have had people coming out of the woodwork saying they are so happy we are doing this because their career paths have been hampered by a charge being on the record."
One of the big factors for the bill, according to Bratcher, is also economic development in the commonwealth. He said that although the state is experiencing an economic boom, employers are having a tough time finding employees potentially because of old criminal charges.
"Not only is this a fairness issue, just being decent and fair, but it's also an economic development issue," he said. "The economy of Kentucky is starving and this issue is hampering it somewhat."
In a statement from the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition, they applaud the bill saying, "HB 327, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, is a sensible measure that improves our commonwealth's expungement statutes by removing barriers to work. Our broad-based coalition is pleased with the steady progress legislators are making each year on the expungement issue."
Also passed onto the Senate is HB 284, sponsored by Rep. Derek Lewis, R-London, which would create incentives for probation to match those of parole in hopes to encourage treatment for substance abuse disorder and support work opportunities in order to reduce recidivism rates in Kentucky jails.
"(HB 284) brings felony probation in line with long-standing treatment of sentences and parole," Lewis said. "This legislation would allow those on probation the opportunity to reduce their time on probation by completing various objectives such as earning their GED, getting a certificate for a vocation, life skills training, evidence-based drug treatment, etc."
Individuals can also receive credits for completing a drug program, evidence-based program or doing work-for-time.
"It is my opinion that people should be held accountable for their actions," he told The Register. "However, people should also be incentivized for trying to do right. If someone made a mistake and wants to get back on track by finding a job, obtaining an education or seeking help for substance abuse, we should encourage that individual, not put up roadblocks."
Lewis said with bills like his and Bratcher's, the state could begin to "chip away" at the need for criminal justice reform.
The Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition also commended this bill saying, "We're equally heartened to Rep. Derek Lewis' probation compliance credit bill, HB 284, cleared the House...Our coalition encourages the Senate to pass these meaningful bills without delay to make our commonwealth safe and our workforce stronger."
When asked about his thoughts of the bills passing in the Senate, Rep. Bratcher responded saying he thinks his senator counterparts will respond just as well. Rep. Lewis agreed.
"People know that this is the right thing to do," Bratcher said.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.