In an effort to give Kentuckians a second chance after a previous conviction, legislation to expand access to Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money passed out of the House Education Committee unanimously Tuesday.
House Bill 25, sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney, removes the requirement that an eligible high school student and eligible postsecondary student not be a convicted felon for KEES eligibility.
Timoney stated removing the felony piece from the law removes an obstacle currently standing in the way of Kentuckians going on to higher education and bettering themselves.
ACLU Policy Strategist Amanda Hall, who is eight years into long-term recovery and was incarcerated, noted she is one of over 300,000 in the state with a felony on their record and pointed to the many barriers individuals face in reentry when it comes to employment, education, and voting rights, and more.
Hall emphasized the support of House Bill 25 of her organization as well as the Smart on Crime coalition with the Kentucky Chamber, religious groups, and many more and stated redemption is real and second chances make our Commonwealth a better place for everyone.
“This is an important step for the Commonwealth if we are serious about reducing our abysmal 40 percent recidivism rate,” said Kate Shanks, VP of Public Affairs at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition. “To better position individuals for success after they leave the criminal justice system, we have to be opening up more opportunities, and studies clearly demonstrate education and job skills reduce the likelihood of reoffending. The business community views Rep. Timoney’s bill as a no-brainer because there is also a great urgency to improve the percentage of Kentuckians with degrees from two-year and four-year institutions, an area where we currently lag the rest of the nation. It’s a win-win.”
Charles Aull of Greater Louisville Inc. said this bill is a priority of the business community because it is pro-workforce development and pro-successful reentry. Workforce challenges in Kentucky did not disappear in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic according to Aull, who added that as our economy continues to recover, it will be even more important to drive workforce development and labor force participation and that this legislation is a key piece.
House Bill 25 now heads to the full House to be heard on the floor.