House committee passes bills dealing with employability and juvenile justice

Prision Cells at Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho

Legislation to eliminate automatic mandatory transfer of juveniles in the court system and help with successful reentry by ensuring employability saw passage in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 36, sponsored by Chairman Whitney Westerfield, seeks to allow juvenile court judges to use their discretion in the decision to transfer youth ages 14 and older to adult court for certain offenses. When judges have the discretion to decide how to handle these cases rather than mandating a transfer, courts can respond more effectively to cases, and children can have better access to rehabilitative support and services.

Senate Bill 36 passed in the committee with a 18-0 vote and now moves to the full House for a vote before going to the governor.

House Bill 497, sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser, seeks to remove barriers to reentry by giving those exiting the corrections system a certificate of employability following success in programs completed while incarcerated.

Under the legislation, the Kentucky Department of Corrections would issue this certification once programs are complete, as well as partner with the Department of Transportation to ensure those leaving incarceration have necessary identification. The bill would also incentivize employers by providing limited liability protections, eliminate a ban on SNAP benefits for those convicted of a felony, and allow use of Medicaid for necessary treatments if an 1115 waiver is issued. The certification of employability will not be issued to sex offenders, and there are other exclusions in the bill as well.

Moser said many in our criminal justice system are individuals who struggle with things like trauma and substance use disorder that need help to get back on their feet. She noted many who are formerly incarcerated or in recovery are often extremely loyal and highly-valued employees of Kentucky companies.

Kentucky Chamber Vice President of Public Affairs Kate Shanks said the bill is crucial to removing barriers to reentry.

“As the state continues to struggle with a low workforce participation rate, Kentucky companies are ready and willing to hire those in recovery and who are formerly incarcerated,” Shanks said.

””If Kentucky wants to see economic recovery, we must create jobs and get people into positions and this is a critical step toward that goal. The Kentucky Chamber is committed to helping employers understand how to utilize this new certification and incorporate the policy into training programs the organization provides.”

Amanda Hall of the ACLU of Kentucky noted the support of almost 50 groups on the bill and ensured committee members this bill is important to groups of people in all communities across the state. Speaking to her personal experience, Hall said she exited incarceration with nothing but a trash bag with a few court papers and articles of clothing. ”While I had the support of the recovery community, many  reentering society don’t have any type of support, which is what makes this bill so important in removing those barriers,” Hall said.

Hall added the legislation can help break generational cycles and get to root of many of the disparity issues the state faces.

House Bill 497 now moves to the full House for a vote. It will still need to be heard in the Senate and passed there in the final 9 days of session to become law.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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