The Kentucky House Judiciary committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 57 sponsored by Senator James Higdon on Wednesday.
What's in the bill?
Senate Bill 57 expands the offenses for which an individuals can seek expungement to include nearly all class D felonies. Violent and sexual offenses, offenses involving a child, and public corruption offenses are still excluded. This is important because certain homicide offenses can be plead down to Class D felonies and will not be eligible for expungement under this bill.
Under current law, eligible offenses can be expunged after 5 years crime free upon completion of the sentence. The expanded list of offenses would be expungable after 10 years.
Reduces the filing fee
Perhaps the most important development of the hearing, though, was the adoption of the committee substitute, introduced by Representative Jason Nemes, that would lower the filing fee for expungement from $500 to $150.
Currently, Kentucky has one of the highest costs of expungement in the nation including both a filing fee and a $40 certification. It is also the highest total cost among our neighbors.
The purpose of expungement is to reward those who have successfully completed their sentence and remained crime free. It allows individuals who have demonstrated a seriousness of repentance and rehabilitation to more fully assimilate back into civil society without the dark cloud of their conviction. Studies show that after seven years crime-free, “the likelihood of an offender re-offending is negligibly higher than the likelihood of an average citizen committing a first crime.”
To further disenfranchise people out of this process by requiring an arbitrarily large fee denies restoration to folks who have otherwise earned it and does nothing to protect public safety or confidence in the criminal justice system.
What still needs to change?
SB 57 unfortunately still contains an arbitrarily long waiting period. There is no evidence that a ten year waiting period better protects public safety than a five year waiting period, but it does continue to keep ex-convicts locked out of certain jobs and civic engagement.
Given that employment plays a positive role in the re-entry process and reduces recidivism, removing barriers to employment for those who demonstrate they’re serious about their own success is a positive and welcome development.
If SB 57 retains the lowering of the filing fee and can be amended to reduce the waiting period from ten to five years, Kentucky will become the national leader on the issue of expungement.
*This blog has been updated to reflect that Tennessee recently lowered their expungement cost to $180. County clerks in Tennessee may charge an additional $100, bringing the potential cost to $280*