By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
Bipartisan legislation seeking to cut down on recidivism and allow people a better transition back into the community after life in prison passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday with only one no vote.
Senate Bill 120, filed and introduced at a press conference on earlier this month, would help address Kentucky’s workforce shortage by providing work opportunities for individuals who are held back by a past criminal record.
In a meeting of the same committee last week, discussion on the bill went on for two hours with many people testifying. A vote on a bill was held until today.
Last week in committee, Gov. Matt Bevin expressed support for Senate Bill 120 saying Kentucky “needs this” to give individuals another chance and to make the state a model for the nation.
Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey also testified in favor of the legislation, saying this administration is working with Kentuckians behind bars to address the justice issues and ensure they are not punished again once they are released from prison.
Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said the number one driver of our prison population is not new crime, but instead existing issues. And Secretary Tilley said this legislation seeks to address those issues.
The governor and cabinet secretaries all stressed the need to ensure the state gives former offenders a chance to get a job in order to help address Kentucky’s workforce needs and also keep them out of the prison system.
One piece included in the bill that would help with workforce issues is language giving occupational licensing boards the freedom to decide whether a prior offense should preclude an individual from obtaining a license. A board could deny a license if its members saw fit, and a fair appeals process would be established. But a denial would not be automatic, as it is now.
The Kentucky Chamber is strongly supportive of this as the business community’s main focus is a highly-skilled workforce and this legislation will help individuals get back into jobs, be more productive citizens, pay taxes, and support their families.
Many other groups have also written letters in support of the legislation citing the need to cut down on recidivism including the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, Kentucky Jailers Association, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs and the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Senate Bill 120 now moves to the full Senate for a vote on the floor.
For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.