- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentuckians trying to overcome their criminal past could no longer be automatically denied occupational licenses under legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The measure continues efforts to revamp Kentucky’s criminal justice system. The goal is to reduce the state’s prison and jail population, in part by steering one-time offenders toward jobs and careers in hopes they don’t commit more crimes.

“We have a solid piece of legislation,” said committee Chairman Whitney Westerfield, the bill’s sponsor. “I think it will improve public safety. I think it will hold offenders accountable. I think it will reduce recidivism and reduce future crime.”

A major thrust of the bill would allow people convicted of crimes to pursue occupational licenses without being automatically turned away due to their criminal background.

Kentucky has at least 60 boards and commissions that issue licenses required for various jobs, including air-conditioning contractors, barbers and landscapers. Right now, those boards can deny a license solely because someone has a criminal conviction.

The bill would only allow board members to deny a license request if they could show a connection between a person’s conviction and the license being sought. People denied a license could appeal the decision to a circuit court.

The measure was opposed in committee by Republican Sen. John Schickel of Union, who said the licensure provisions amount to government overreach.

“It says that we the government are going to stick our nose in professional standards,” he said. “And I just don’t think that’s our role.”

Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, told reporters later that the boards and commissions would retain their discretion to deny licenses if his bill becomes law.

“Despite the due process protections we’ve built in for the applicants, if the board still wants to say ‘no,’ they still say ‘no,’” Westerfield said. “So we’re not automatically granting any licenses.

“We’re not giving them (applicants) an extra right. We’re just making sure that they’re not penalized extra,” he added.

Another provision of the bill would no longer allow poor people to be imprisoned if they are ordered to pay fines or court costs but are unable to do so.

The bill has drawn support from an unusual coalition of advocates and politicians that includes Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. Bevin and the ACLU have clashed repeatedly during his time in office on abortion rights and other issues.

Last year, the legislature passed a law allowing people with certain nonviolent felony convictions to expunge their criminal records. And Bevin recently signed an executive order that said applicants for state jobs no longer have to disclose criminal convictions on initial applications.


The legislation is Senate Bill 120.

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