- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Some Missourians could have their criminal records sealed under a bill the Missouri Legislature passed Wednesday.

The proposal won bipartisan approval, with supporters saying it would allow reformed criminals to get jobs while ensuring people with histories of violence or sexual deviancy don’t escape scrutiny. But critics said that compromise excluded too many people, including those guilty of theft.

People would have to wait seven years after completing their sentence for a felony or three years for a misdemeanor before their records could be sealed. They could not have committed any other crimes in the meantime and would have to pay a fee of $250.

Rep. Jay Barnes, the Jefferson City Republican who handled the bill in the House, said the measure would help people who get into trouble when they’re young and then prove they have changed.

“I think those are the type of people who we want to encourage and we want to acknowledge that they’ve turned their life around,” he said before the House passed the bill on a 143-12 vote. The Senate later voted 25-7 to send the legislation to the governor.

Offenders could not have their record sealed if they were found guilty of violent crimes, such as domestic assault; crimes that would require someone to register as a sex offender; or felony burglary or fraud.

“In my mind, if you steal something one time you’re always a thief,” Barnes said.

Prosecutors and law enforcement could still access the sealed criminal records. Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat, criticized that provision, saying it could lead to people being charged as repeat offenders, contrary to the spirit of the law.

Rep. Kim Gardner, a Democrat running for St. Louis circuit attorney, said it would be better allow people to expunge their records, which would eliminate mention of the crime entirely.

Legislative researchers estimate the fines to seal the records could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Barnes said that was an overestimation, but others said a measure designed to help marginalized people shouldn’t raise any money.

“You’re going to make net profit to expunge their criminal records,” said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. “It’s obscene to do that.”

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Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report.

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