When I ran for 18th District State Representative in the fall of 2019, one of the top issues I heard from constituents about was workforce development right here in our local community. In my update today, I would like to share a bit about legislation we passed aimed at improving job opportunities for Kentuckians and those living in the 18th District.
I hear the term “workforce preparedness” thrown around a lot in Frankfort. This simply measures how ready to work Kentuckians are, specifically what kind of training, education, and work ethic they have. It also looks at what issues people are facing, like substance abuse, poor health, or a criminal record. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, Kentucky was a work in progress in this area. According to the Kentucky Center for Statistics, only 56.8% of Kentuckians who should have been working held a job. This means that 40% of eligible Kentuckians were not working, and, at the end of 2019, there were more than 170,000 open jobs available.
Jobs are important to our Commonwealth’s success, and, to realize our potential, we must remove barriers. During the 2020 Session, the General Assembly passed several initiatives aimed at helping people enter the workforce. They include:
HB 284 created incentives for Kentuckians on probation to seek treatment for substance abuse, earn their GED or qualifying vocational/technical training, or complete qualifying work-for-time opportunities. This approach has proven successful for paroled offenders and gives folks an incentive to pursue a path outside of criminal activity. I am hopeful that this program will open doors to those on probation and demonstrate the positive lifelong possibilities that come with education and job training.
HB 327 expunges the criminal records of a person acquitted of a crime or whose case was dismissed. Many employers do a thorough background check, and having a criminal record is a major red flag for those looking for a job. I believe it is unfair to punish individuals who have never been convicted of a crime; our criminal justice system is not supposed to work that way. I hope these folks will have the opportunity to realize their goals and earn gainful employment.
SB 191 is a new initiative designed to help employers assist workers struggling with substance use disorders. The program will allow employers to get good employees who need help into treatment without losing their job. This legislation will help address the substance use disorder crisis by incentivizing treatment while also supporting employee retention. This is a commonsense approach to allow people dealing with substance use disorder to get the support they need while also keeping their job.
These are some of our past results, and we are continuing to address this issue throughout the interim. The Substance Use and Recovery Task Force is working to evaluate and establish pathways for re-entry for those overcoming addiction, especially as it relates to the workforce. I know this committee will work with our business community and interested stakeholders to ensure that commonsense, practical solutions are brought forth that will continue to help people recover and be productive members of society. I also believe we will continue to look at ways we can make existing state programs more helpful to those who want to work.
Before I close, I want to highlight the pilot Expungement Benefit Program that was developed by the Removing Obstacles subcommittee of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board’s Workforce Crisis Task Force. For some background, the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board is a 23-member board responsible for managing local workforce development projects for the eight counties (including Grayson County and Hardin County) of the Lincoln Trail Area Development District and Workforce Development Area. Through this pilot program, employers assist employees with the expungement process and the cost required to remove the quality Class D felony convictions from their personal records. Earlier this year in May, Hardin Memorial Hospital became the first regional employer to participate in the program. You can learn more here: https://www.hmh.net/hmh-employee-first-to-complete-expungement-benefit-program-case-study/.
I am always available to discuss any issue that you find pressing. I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181, and you can contact me via e-mail at Samara.Heavrin@lrc.ky.gov. You can also follow me on Facebook @KYRepSamaraHeavrin for regular updates. You can also keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.legislature.ky.gov.