GOP state Sen. Scott Wagner estimates that more than 3 million Pennsylvanians have committed non-violent crimes in their past.
And when they truthfully answer the question on a job application about whether they have ever been convicted or pleaded guilty to a crime, their chances of a job disappear.
So state Sen. Wagner, a Republican from York and candidate for governor, is again teaming up with Democratic state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) on plans to reintroduce legislation they call a “Clean Slate.”
Under current law, people with past criminal offenses must hire attorneys to clear their records, which can be expensive and offers no guarantee that the offense will be removed, Wagner said.
His proposed legislation would offer “an automatic process where the person’s record is sealed, and no court petition would be required,” he explained in a prepared statement.
Individuals must have a 10-year crime-free period for their offense to be sealed, and all court obligations must have been fulfilled, Wagner said.
Supporters say that because past crimes no longer hang over applicants’ heads, the measure would reduce recidivism and help expand the state’s workforce.
The legislation, which has yet to be introduced, “may be perceived as risky by some people,” Wagner said. But, he added, “I view it as an opportunity to address a very large issue in Pennsylvania.”
“It has the potential to change the lives of hard-working people who are trying to provide for their families,” he added.
Almost a year ago, Wagner and Senator Williams introduced a “Clean Slate” measure that passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee but then hit a roadblock in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Pennsylvania State Police officials expressed concerns with the cost to implement the automatic sealing process outlined in the measure, Wagner’s legislative director Erin Marsicano said Wednesday.
She said bill supporters are working closely with both the state court system and the state police “to ensure the language of the bill will result in a sealing process that can truly be automatic, and not labor-intensive on either of their parts – and of course, does not come with a large price tag.”
The measure would apply only for non-violent offenses.
Misdemeanor drug-possession charges, a DUI offense or a minor theft of an item below a specific dollar amount are examples of what would be covered under the “Clean Slate” measure, he said.
“We want to give the person applying for a job at our company the same opportunity as an applicant who does not have a criminal record,”” he added.
A recent poll by the U.S. Justice Action Network organization found that 81 percent of Pennsylvanians support automatically sealing non-violent criminal records after a few years if another crime hasn’t been committed, the organization said.
Sen. Williams said in a statement from the organization that the poll “makes it crystal-clear that Pennsylvania voters know their tax dollars should be used to actually lower crime, not just build more prisons or lock people up.”
Wagner, the owner of York County’s Penn Waste Inc., announced in January that he’s running for governor of Pennsylvania in 2018.