- Associated Press - Sunday, June 12, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon is considering whether to sign a bill that would let those convicted of certain crimes in Missouri to have their records sealed if they aren’t convicted of breaking the law again for several years after completing their sentences.

Supporters of the measure say it would help those former criminals who turn things around move on with their lives and find employment more easily. Prosecutors and law enforcement still could access the records under the bill, which has the backing of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and state public defenders.

“It’s designed to give credit to those Missourians who made mistakes in their lives but who paid their debt to society and have turned their lives around,” said Republican state Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City attorney who does some criminal defense work and who ushered the bill through the House. “That’s part of the American story of redemption.”

He and others have also touted the bill as an opportunity to increase employment. Michael Barrett, who heads the Missouri State Public Defender System, said unemployment is the primary factor in whether a prior offender breaks the law again.

“I can’t think of a single initiative that will do more to improve public safety, help the economy and reduce the reliance on public benefits,” Barrett said.

Some critics say the bill, which would take effect in 2018, doesn’t go far enough.

If Nixon signs the bill, 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, although judges could waive the fee for those who can’t afford it.

Dangerous felonies, sex offenses, domestic assault and other violent crimes would not be eligible.

Legislative researchers in May estimated an earlier version of the bill could mean up to 1.1 million expungements each year.

Current law allows for some first-time drunken driving offenses to be expunged 10 years after sentences are complete. Some property damage and financial crimes can be expunged 20 years after sentences are completed for felonies and 10 years after they’re completed for misdemeanors.

State Rep. Kimberly Gardner, a former St. Louis prosecutor, said such records should be destroyed, not sealed. She also said the range of crimes that could be hidden from public view is too limited and that she wants to add theft to the list.

“It’s not real expungement,” she said.

But Gardner, who voted for the measure, also said it is a step in the right direction. The state House voted 143-12 in favor of the bill. The state Senate passed it on a 25-7 vote.

Sponsor Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican, also said he’d like to revisit the legislation if Nixon signs it and try to add petty theft and more drug-related crimes to the list.

Seventeen states allow for expungement of low-level felonies, according to national nonprofit Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction and Restoration of Rights.

Executive Director and former U.S. pardon attorney Margaret Love said efforts to establish expungement policies or ramp up opportunities to seal criminal records have increased in recent years since the 1980s and 1990s. She said current expungement efforts likely are the result of blowback to “tough on crime” policies enacted in that time period.

There’s no consensus among states over what “expungement” means, Love said, but most policies require records to be sealed, not destroyed.

According to the nonprofit, at least four states this year - Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - either passed laws to provide new opportunities for expungement and record sealing or made it easier to expunge crimes.

Close to half of states have ban-the-box policies that put restrictions on employers questioning the criminal history of job applicants, and nine have expanded the policy to private-sector employers, according to attorney Beth Avery of the National Employment Law Project.

Passage of the Missouri record-sealing bill in the GOP-led Legislature came about a month after Nixon, a Democrat, removed questions about a job candidate’s criminal history from initial applications for work within state government. Legislative efforts to do so in the private sector failed this year.

The Missouri Press Association didn’t take a stance on the measure, but Executive Director Mark Maassen said it would be “a reasonable adjustment, giving people a second chance.”


Missouri record-sealing bill is SB 588.


Senate: https://www.senate.mo.gov


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