"Clean Slate" Bill Moves Forward in Pennsylvania
"Clean Slate" Bill Moves Forward in Pennsylvania
Groundbreaking Automatic Record Sealing Program with Bipartisan Support Would Help Thousands of Pennsylvanians Get a Second Chance
Today, a "Clean Slate" bill providing for automatic sealing of qualified criminal cases (SB 529) was passed unanimously out of committee by the PA Senate Judiciary Committee. Sealing allows Pennsylvanians who show redemption by staying crime-free to move forward with their lives. The bill enjoys broad and bipartisan support, including from some legislators and advocacy groups who rarely find common ground.
Clean Slate calls for automatic sealing of minor, non-violent misdemeanor convictions for individuals who have remained conviction free for at least 10 years. Clean Slate will also automatically seal records of arrests that do not lead to convictions. The House version of the bill is HB 1419.
While law enforcement will continue to have access, these cases will be sealed from public uses. Pennsylvanians who have shown rehabilitation by remaining conviction free will be able to find better employment, housing, and educational services.
Clean Slate’s broad support is unusual in these contentious political times. The prime sponsors in the Senate, Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) and Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), generally have strongly divergent political viewpoints, yet have come together on this bill. Both bills feature a long list of sponsors from both parties. More than half of the members of the Senate are cosponsors. The lead sponsors in the House are Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia). The bill is also supported by Governor Tom Wolf.
A Clean Slate program will:
- Help many of the 30% of Pennsylvanians who have a criminal record (and who are parents of about half of our state’s children) to move on after demonstrating rehabilitation by refraining from criminal activity.
- Improve public safety by providing hope to offenders for a fresh start if they avoid future convictions.
- Save money for the Commonwealth by reducing criminal justice supervision costs, allowing people with criminal records to support themselves instead of relying on public benefits, and increasing tax revenues when these people are able to work.
- Reduce the burden on courts, which currently handle thousands of expungement petitions a year, but still cannot begin to process all of the cases that are eligible for expungement or sealing.
Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services, said, “Our legal aid organization helps thousands of people with criminal records whose involvement with the criminal justice system is decades old. Their old criminal cases do not speak to who they are today, yet these records keep them in poverty.”
She continued, “Providing a clear record to people who have demonstrated that they have earned it is the best way to help them overcome criminal record barriers. That way, they are not at the mercy of employers, landlords and others to follow the law and not disqualify them for old, minor, irrelevant cases.”
In addition to CLS, this legislation is being supported nationally by the bipartisan U.S. Justice Action Network, comprising members as diverse as: Americans for Tax Reform; the Center for American Progress; FreedomWorks; the ACLU; Right on Crime; the NAACP; and the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
The Pennsylvania Council of Churches is among many in-state supporters of Clean Slate. The Rev. Sandra L. Strauss, Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Outreach, said, “Redemption and restoration are foundational beliefs for Christians. The Pennsylvania Council of Churches supports this legislation that will permit returning citizens to return as full citizens—not forever labeled by and punished for the mistakes of their past.”
Donna H is one of CLS’s clients who would be helped by the bill. She said, ““I have two old misdemeanor convictions from 1986 and 1998 that do not stand for who I am today. I currently work part-time as a supermarket cashier, but I cannot live on my low paycheck from that job. This criminal record keeps me from using my skills. It is very upsetting to be held back this way.”
CLS urges the General Assembly to adopt Clean Slate as soon as possible to streamline the sealing of records, save the Commonwealth significant and needed funds, and allow thousands of deserving Pennsylvanians a real chance to achieve economic stability.
For more information about Clean Slate, contact: Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director, (w) 215-981-3719; (c) 215-605-6903; email@example.com.
About Community Legal Services, Inc.:
Community Legal Services, Inc. was established by the Philadelphia Bar Association in 1966. Since then, CLS has provided legal services to more than one million low-income Philadelphia residents, representing them in individual cases and class actions, and advocating on their behalf for improved regulations and laws that affect low-income Philadelphians. As the city's largest provider of free legal services, CLS assists more than 11,500 of Philadelphia’s poorest residents with their legal problems each year. For more information, contact 215-981-3700 or visit www.clsphila.org.