The Senate passed a “clean slate” bill Tuesday to automatically expunge the criminal records of people convicted of certain crimes.
The bill, which passed 23-12, would automatically erase eligible misdemeanors after seven years and certain felonies 10 to 15 years after their most recent conviction. The sentences for the charges addressed in the legislation may have lasted up to 10 years.
For eligible convictions, erasure is automatic for offenses occurring on or after January 1, 2000; for earlier offenses, erasure occurs when the person files a petition for erasure. The bill establishes a separate process for erasing certain misdemeanor convictions committed by minors before July 1, 2012.
The bill doesn’t include C felonies, which was a disappointment to advocates who have been lobbying for an inclusive and comprehensive bill.
“For Clean Slate to be real, it must include as many people as possible and prevent discrimination on the basis of an erased record. Unfortunately, the new bill before the House only checks one of these boxes,” Gus Marks-Hamilton, campaign director with the ACLU of Connecticut, said. “Excluding people living with a felony conviction from the chance to reenter society is part of a deeply racist legacy in the U.S., and it is disappointing that some legislators chose to double down on this harm by excluding people living with a level C felony from earning the chance at a Clean Slate.”
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said the bill strikes the right balance by looking at the data which says after a certain period of time, these individuals are no more likely to commit a crime than someone who has never committed a crime.
He argued the bill is a public safety measure.
“We know that when people can’t reintegrate into society, they’re more likely to commit a crime and yet we think of that as public safety. I just don’t understand it,” Winfield said.
Republicans introduced a handful of amendments to exempt certain misdemeanors or felonies they didn’t feel were appropriate.
Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, said when it comes to criminally negligent homicide, “the family should have an opportunity to stand up and object to the erasure. The victim should have a voice in this. This should not be automatic.”
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he understands the desire to seek redemption.
“Nobody feels the past should haunt them forever but there are just some things that are so abhorrent … and we can’t turn a blind eye to that,” Kissel said. “There should be consequences beyond incarceration.”
“I think we’ve gone a step too far,” Kissel said. “I don’t think this is the right direction for the state of Connecticut.”
Winfield reminded him that the erasures would be made years after they had completed their sentences.
Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said most of the states that have passed this legislation have Republican majorities.
“This is an economic imperative to put people back to work,” Haskell said.
He said it’s not just the “right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.”
“I was shocked to find out that one study found $859 million dollars a year is lost in Connecticut, lost because we hold people back. We make it harder for them when they get out,” Haskell said.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the bill doesn’t offer formerly incarcerated individuals a clean slate immediately after they get out. They have to wait several years and reintegrate into society.
Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said the bill does not strike the right balance.
“I want to be able to support this bill before us because I do believe in forgiveness,” Kelly said.
However, he doesn’t believe some of these crimes should be included in the bill.
“The state already has a Board of Pardons and Paroles through which someone can apply to have their record expunged,” Kelly said. “With this bill the state is losing its focus on the victims of serious crime.”