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Conn. Lawmakers Will Consider ‘Clean Slate’ Bill To Expunge Some Criminal Records

Prison cells
Courtesy of Pixabay

The criminal records of low-level offenders could be wiped clean because of a new bill that has advanced to the Connecticut General Assembly.

Lawmakers on the state’s Judiciary Committee passed to the full Legislature a new version of the Clean Slate bill. The legislation would provide automatic erasure of misdemeanor and some lower-level felony charges ranging from seven to 15 years after the date of conviction. People convicted of sex offenses, domestic violence and family violence crimes would not eligible.

Proponents of the bill said it will be easier for formerly incarcerated and convicted people to get a job, buy a house, get an education and adjust to life after prison.

The bill was poised to be law last year, advocates said. A February 2020 poll by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut found that 64% of state voters backed the Clean Slate bill. However, the bill was overshadowed by the pandemic.

Attorney Phil Kent, co-chair of Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut’s Criminal Justice Reform Team, said the bill is a smart policy that will be good for public safety and economic growth.

“It will boost our economy when returning citizens can access more hours and better wages,” Kent said in a statement. “And importantly, it will address the racially biased impact of our criminal legal system, which disproportionately harms Black and Latinx people.”

The bill would also prohibit discrimination against people who may be discovered to have an erased record. Former prisoners would be able to file a claim with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities if they face discrimination after their record has been erased.

Several Republican lawmakers pushed against advancing the bill.

“Philosophically, I agree that some lower-level misdemeanors, perhaps there is something that should happen there,” Representative Craig Fishbein of Wallingford said, rebuking erasing more serious felonies, including forms of assault, possession of child pornography, theft and bribery. “If we were to look at the list of those crimes, some are quite distressing.”

Since 2018, the bill has been pushed by advocacy groups. Representative Brandon McGee, a Hartford Democrat and chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, then introduced the legislation. Governor Ned Lamont had introduced similar Clean Slate legislation in early 2020 before the pandemic. Senate and House leaders are next to review the bill.