Resolution was the watchword in the House this week as committee assignments for the remaining 51 days of the 2016 Regular Session and beyond were announced for the chamber’s bipartisan membership.
The assignments were announced on Tuesday by the House Committee on Committees — a procedural committee that refers bill and resolutions to standing committees throughout the session. Once committee assignments were made, bills began to pass out of House standing committees.
Among those bills was House Bill 40, this session’s felony expungement bill that would allow the state’s courts to permanently seal the records of up to 94,000 Kentuckians who have been convicted or accused but not formally charged with a low-level felony. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 15-3 vote Wednesday and sent the bill to the full House for consideration.
This is not the first time a felony expungement bill has surfaced in the House; similar bills have been introduced over the past 15 years including the bill’s namesake — the nearly-identical 2015 HB 40, which passed the House by a vote of 84-14 but stalled in the Senate. What may be different is the attention the proposal is receiving this time around.
A bipartisan brigade of Kentuckians is supporting the language in 2016 HB 40. Governor Matt Bevin and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes have both thrown their support behind the expungement provisions, as has Kentucky’s larger business community with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce leading the charge. The reasons for this support are many, with two in particular — building Kentucky’s workforce by giving low-level felons a second chance at success and reducing the state’s recidivism, or criminal relapse, rate (now at around 41 percent) — taking center stage.
Key provisions of HB 40 would allow expungement of felony charges that did not result in an indictment as well as low-level Class D felony convictions, and prohibit expunged convictions from being used in civil or administrative proceedings. Those who have committed sex crimes, crimes against children or vulnerable adults and certain other felons would not be eligible for expungement under the proposal. The bill would basically give eligible low-level felons the same expungement rights already available to Kentucky’s misdemeanor offenders, no matter how long ago the offense was committed or the accusation was made.
We will all be watching closely over the next few weeks to see the progress of HB 40 in the House and the Senate, should the bill get that far. Concerns about the legislation in the House do exist and will likely be addressed in floor amendments before a House floor vote is taken.
Criminal justice is but one of the issues facing us lawmakers in 2016. Committees are also hard at work on other issues including health care issues facing the Commonwealth. The House Health and Welfare Committee considered several bills this week on that front, including HB 115.
The bill would increase the number of Kentuckians eligible for colon cancer screenings through Kentucky’s Colon Cancer Screening Program by opening up the program to underinsured persons who fall within accepted guidelines. Income-based fees that would be developed should the bill become law may be charged for the screenings under HB 115. Although some lawmakers had concerns with the overall cost that could be incurred should the bill become law, HB 115 was ultimately approved by the committee and sent to the full House for consideration.
Life-saving provisions in HB 97 also received the approval of the House Health and Welfare panel this week. That bill will join HB 115 and HB 40 in the full House. If passed, HB 97 would give parents of newborns up to 30 days after the child is born to leave the child at a state-approved safe place if they feel they can’t keep the child.
Parents or those acting for them now have up to 72 hours after a child is born to leave the child at a hospital, police station, or other safe place under the state’s Kentucky Safe Infants Act. HB 97 would also allow churches or other places of worship to also participate as safe places, should they volunteer to do so and can accommodate the requirements of the law. Kentucky would become the fifth state to allow places of worship to serve as safe places for newborns according to committee testimony.
Budget subcommittees started meeting this week, allowing House members to begin a formal review of agency budget requests for the next two state fiscal years. Budgets for all three branches of government and the state Road Fund will take shape in coming weeks as the subcommittees and the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee continue their work.
You can stay up-to-date on all legislative action of interest to you throughout the 2016 Regular Session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. For committee meeting schedules, please call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. Or, to comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.