Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the percentage of Kentucky adults with a conviction on their record. This has been corrected. (March 7, 2024)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentuckians who are ex-offenders can face obstacles when trying to rebuild their lives.

What You Need To Know

  • A report from July 2023 said 38% of Kentuckians have a criminal record

  • The Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition, a group of 14 organizations, have come together to support House Bill 124

  • The bill would make it easier for ex-offenders to gain a position of public employment or an occupational license

  • According to Kentucky Smart on Crime, 21 other states have similar laws

However, a bill is making its way through the state Capitol that supporters say would save applicants time and money. 

Selena Coomer is in long-term recovery right now. As a child, she experienced trauma that eventually ran her into addiction. She said she started drinking at 12 and was a daily drinker by the time she was a 14-year-old. 

“I went to a party and never left in my mind," she said. "At 17, I met the God of my understanding, my son’s father. He was absolutely perfect; he had no job, no home and no car, and I was going to fix him up."

"Before I could fix him up, he tore me down.” 

She said she was often in and out of jail before receiving treatment and help 16 years ago. But when she wanted to attend college and become a nurse, a background check found 13 misdemeanors when registering for a class, including one for a stolen moped. 

"It was still on my record," she said. "Who wants to hire someone down the line to take care of somebody when you have a stolen [item]? I had to get that record expunged before I could even start the process of becoming a nurse." 

In July 2023, Goodwill and Clean Slate reported, 38% of Kentuckians have a criminal record. This week, the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition, a group of 14 organizations, came together to support House Bill 124.

The bill, which is making its way through the General Assembly in Frankfort, would require hiring and licensing authorities to establish an application process giving people convicted of a crime the opportunity to apply for a position of public employment or occupational license before pursuing training.

Supporters have said the action would determine whether their criminal record would be disqualifying. 

"This is a bill that really gives people a second chance and a fair chance," said Liz McQuillen, Metro United Way chief policy officer. "It's really important that people have opportunities when they are leaving incarceration, when they have done the work to really want to get back into society and break that cycle of incarceration and poverty."

Coomer now helps run a nonprofit, The Prisoner’s Hope. It works with families before, during and after incarceration through mentoring and meeting needs. She also helps run Smart Justice Advocates. 

“I want to be a part of changing what reentry looks like for the state of Kentucky.” Coomer said.

Kentucky Smart on Crime said the bill passed the Kentucky House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee. According to the organization, 21 other states have similar laws.