People with criminal convictions from decades past but who have turned their lives around will have a potential obstacle to employment eliminated this week.
Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign House Bill 1419, more commonly known as the “clean slate” bill, into law. The state Senate passed the bill June 22, following House passage in April.
The legislation, which has drawn bipartisan support, gives people with low-level, non-violent offenses from at least 10 years ago a mechanism allowing their criminal records to be sealed from public view.
The legislation does not apply to violent offenses, sexual offenses, cruelty to animals and corruption of minors.
“Passage of the Clean Slate law allows for many people to move on with their lives with greater chances for success. This means better career, housing and education options,” Wolf said in a statement. “It’s another step in the right direction to reform the state’s criminal justice system and allow people the opportunity to succeed.”
The administration estimates that nearly 3 million Pennsylvanians of working age have criminal records, many with only minor offenses.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale noted that these stains on people’s records can affect their ability to find jobs, housing and loans.
“Non-violent offenders who do not reoffend after 10 years deserve to be given their lives back,” he said in a statement.
Other support came from Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania, which sent a letter in March urging members of the House Judiciary Committee to support the bill.
“An ex-offender may have made a mistake at one point in their lives, but every time they go to apply for a job or get an apartment, that mistake continues to come up and even after the debt has been paid,” Beth Anne Mumford, the group’s director, said in an interview with CPBJ. “It helps people chart their path toward well-being. We’re excited to see that Pennsylvania will become the first state with this kind of legislation once the governor has signed it.”
Once it becomes law, the legislation will seal records of non-violent misdemeanor convictions of people who remain crime-free for 10 years. For non-conviction records, sealing would occur as a matter of course.
H.B. 1419 builds on Act 5 of 2016, which allows for the sealing of records if a petition is filed by the person with the record. The new bill does not require a petition but would automatically seal records after 10 years, as long as the former offender does not get in trouble with the law again and pays all restitution.
In a previous interview, a sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), said the legislation also discourages recidivism.
National studies show people who have not committed a crime within five years of their first offense are not likely to re-offend, she said. But a job applicant is often immediately disqualified if he or she has a criminal record, Delozier said, citing her talks with business chambers in the commonwealth.
A Senate version of the bill was sponsored by former state Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York), who is now running for governor against Wolf.