HARTFORD, CT– Democratic lawmakers who set the agendas of both legislative chambers rallied Thursday outside the Capitol Building with advocates pushing for the passage of a “clean slate” bill to automatically expunge the criminal records of people convicted of certain crimes.
The bill, which advanced out of the legislature’s judiciary and appropriations committees, is awaiting action in the state Senate. The chamber’s president, Sen. Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat and supporter of the concept, said he expects to raise the bill “soon.”
“So many people’s lives have been permanently blighted by a relatively minor conviction that happened to them early in their lives, out of immaturity, a lack of knowledge of how the system works,” Looney told a coalition of faith groups and criminal justice reform advocates.
The bill would automatically wipe records of misdemeanor convictions after seven years. Lower-level felonies would also be expunged after 10 to 15 years, depending on the tier of the crime. Records of certain crimes like sexual offenses and domestic violence would be unaffected by the bill. Some supporters estimated the change would impact the lives of about 277,000 formerly-incarcerated people in Connecticut.
Despite the presence and support of both Looney and House Speaker Matt Ritter, Thursday’s rally had an air of urgency about it. With just 27 days left in the legislative session, supporters spoke of the need to build support among lawmakers. They framed the bill as both a criminal justice reform and a proposal that would put more Connecticut residents back to work. Formerly-incarcerated people often find it difficult to secure employment as a result of their convictions.
“When the government says that your sentence should only be so many years, it must not continue to punish you for the rest of your life,” Dwayne David Paul, director of the Collaborative Center for Justice, said.
But the rally seemed at least partly directed at Gov. Ned Lamont, whose support for the concept remains unclear. Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who is co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Lamont’s office had been included in conversations about the proposal with legislative leadership.
“I think the governor’s represented quite clearly, in the bill the governor put out last year and the things the governor has said, that he has a different perspective than the leadership of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee when it comes to felonies. I don’t think that position has changed,” Winfield said.
A 2020 proposal by Lamont applied to expunging the records of some misdemeanor convictions but did not contemplate C and D class felonies like the legislature’s bill. The legislation was tabled when the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the legislative session.
A spokesman for the governor did not immediately return a request for comment. Winfield declined to speculate whether Lamont would support the bill the legislature was considering.
“We take seriously the things that the governor says, but at the end of the day, the job of the legislature is to pass the bills that should become law,” Winfield said.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who is co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, questioned why Connecticut Republicans were not supporting the measure. The proposal received no Republican votes in the Judiciary Committee and very limited support in the Appropriations Committee. Stafstrom said similar laws had been adopted in other states with Republican-controled legislatures.
“I think today is not just about sort of the governor’s reaction but it’s trying to build consensus and build additional support for this bill from everybody in the building,” Stafstrom said.