Gov. Matt Bevin has signed an executive order that would remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications to work in the state executive branch.
The state would still conduct criminal background checks on applicants. Bevin encouraged private employers to do the same thing, saying the state would “lead by example.”
“Let Kentucky become an example to the nation for all the right reasons,” Bevin said. “I am challenging you as a private employer in Kentucky, join me in leading by example. Let us do what we can to restore opportunity, level the playing field and create new chances for people who have made mistakes, paid their dues and want to mainstream back into society.”
Kentucky Justice and Public Protection Secretary John Tilley said the order could affect hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians and 70 million U.S. citizens who have been convicted of crimes.
Last year, the state legislature approved a bill allowing people with some non-violent felony convictions to clear their criminal records five years after the completion of their sentences. Bevin signed the bill into law.
On Wednesday, Bevin called the executive order “historic” and said it followed principles of redemption set out by the founders of the country.
“Although it bothers many to think that such a thing could be true, it is indeed true that this nation was founded on core Christian principles. And those principles are principles that understand the concept of mercy and redemption and second chances,” Bevin said.
Michael Hiser, a criminal justice reform advocate and counselor from Shepherdsville, said the action could help those with criminal records get a second chance.
“They committed a crime, they want to change their lives and we’ve been holding them back with these boxes, with these background checks that go back 20 years,” Hiser said. “I’m sorry, but if somebody hasn’t committed a crime in five, 10 years, the likelihood that they will is extremely decreased.”
Hiser received his first felony conviction when he was 16 and racked up several drug convictions over 25 years. Sober for 12 years and done with parole since 2012, Hiser received a full pardon from former Gov. Steve Beshear in 2015 — restoring his right to vote, serve on a jury and run for elected office.
Hiser called Bevin’s action a good “first step” but said the governor and legislature should restore voting rights to those with felony records once they’ve completed their punishment.
“The problem that we have here is that people are paying taxes, they’re getting jobs, they’re trying to go on with their life but they have no voice in Kentucky,” Hiser said.
When he took office in December 2015, Bevin rescinded an executive order made by Beshear that restored voting rights to about 180,000 Kentuckians with non-violent felony convictions.
On Wednesday, Bevin said he would support a felon voting bill if it were approved by the legislature.
“If we can come to terms in the legislature where the people’s voice is most clearly heard, where the people have their greatest connection to government, I would be supportive of such an effort, I really would,” Bevin said.
Felon voting rights bills passed out of the state House of Representatives for years when it was controlled by Democrats, but none were approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.