FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Many nonviolent felons could have their convictions hidden under a bill that cleared a House committee Wednesday.
The measure, which the House Judiciary Committee approved 13-8, would allow a judge to expunge a first-offense, non-violent felony five years after the offender's sentence is complete.
Republicans said the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, goes too far. Supporters said the current system makes it difficult for ex-offenders to find jobs.
"It's hard to be proud of who you are, no matter what you've done, if your family is starving around you," Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott said.
Alice Brown and Wayne Saylor, who both have felony convictions on their records, testified Wednesday that potential employers have turned them away. Administrators at their children's schools have also barred them from activities, they said.
"I've changed. I've changed a lot in 29 years," said Saylor, who said he was caught possessing cocaine in 1985. "I'm unable to chaperone at my kids' schools, I've been denied car insurance, even though I haven't even had a parking ticket since '85."
Owens said the measure would benefit 95,000 Kentuckians who have one felony on their records.
Opponents argued against several pieces of the bill, including a provision that could punish employers for refusing to hire a felon whose record had been expunged.
"In addition to having a protected class for race, sex, creed, age, we're going to put felons in a protected class," said Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, "raising them above the average citizen."
House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover said he supported expunging nonviolent felony convictions, but voted against the bill because he said lawmakers didn't have enough time to analyze its various provisions.
Another lawmaker said he was concerned that banks could be punished for turning down applicants who had a felony theft conviction on their records.
The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.