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CLS Blog: Clean Slate Takes a Step Forward


CLS Blog: Clean Slate Takes a Step Forward

On Wednesday, April 11th, Clean Slate moved a step closer to becoming law, when PA House Bill 1419 was passed by the House by a 188-2 vote.  The Senate unanimously passed a similar Clean Slate bill, Senate Bill 529, on June 28, 2017.

Clean Slate is an extremely important bill for Pennsylvanians with old or minor criminal records. Sealing a criminal case is a life-changing remedy for those who qualify.  Every year, Community Legal Services (CLS) helps thousands of people with criminal records whose involvement with the criminal justice system is decades old or who were arrested but never convicted.  Their old or minor criminal cases do not speak to who they are today, yet these records keep them in poverty. 

Clean Slate would help overcome barriers to employment, housing, education, and more.

  • It automatically seals arrests without convictions immediately, summary offense convictions after 10 years, and some misdemeanor convictions after 10 years.  Because cases would be sealed by computer, individuals will not have to retain lawyers and file their own petitions, saving individuals and the courts time and money.
  • It expands Pennsylvania’s two-year-old sealing law to include some first-degree misdemeanors.

Court financial obligations must be paid for convictions to be sealed.

Ronald Lewis, a CLS client who would be helped by the bill, explained the impact that Clean Slate would have on his life:  “I have two old misdemeanor convictions that do not stand for who I am today.  But I keep losing opportunities based on background checks.  Clean Slate would let my family and me finally move forward and allow me to be considered for employment opportunities based on my talents, not my record.”

Clean Slate has made tremendous progress toward passage, but isn’t at the finish line yet. The House and Senate must agree on one bill for Clean Slate to become law.  This reconciliation is expected to occur in June.

The House and Senate Clean Slate bills have several important differences.

  • SB 529 provides for automatic sealing of first-degree misdemeanors.  HB 1419 requires that each individual seeking sealing of a first-degree misdemeanor must file a petition.
  • HB 1419 provides for automatic sealing of summary offense convictions, which SB 529 does not.  HB 1419 also provides confidentiality for some juvenile cases.

CLS appreciates the leadership that the House demonstrated in reaching a compromise to move Clean Slate forward. We thank the lead sponsors in the House, Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) for their hard work on the bill.  CLS also thanks Rep. Ron Marsico, who is Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Leadership for advancing the bill.

Clean Slate is the brainchild of CLS and the Center for American Progress (CAP).  Automatic sealing of minor criminal cases was the lead recommendation in their December 2014 report, One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records.

Clean Slate has enjoyed unusually broad support from wide variety of organizations from across the political spectrum.  Notable among these groups are:

  • A large group of Pennsylvania-based organizations;
  • The Justice Action Network, a national bipartisan coalition advocating on criminal justice reform;
  • The PA Chamber of Business and Industry;
  • Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity – PA; and
  • Players Coalition members, pro football players Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and Torrey Smith.

Clean Slate also has attracted national interest.  Efforts to replicate Clean Slate are underway in South Carolina, Colorado and Michigan.  A federal Clean Slate bill is expected to be introduced soon.