Washington, D.C. — Last week, the Virginia legislature passed S.B. 1339 and H.B. 2113, legislation that will significantly expand eligibility for record-clearing by petition and establish automatic sealing for nonconviction records as well as a set of nine misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana possession, after seven years without a subsequent conviction. Following the passage of the bill, Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-founder of the national Clean Slate Initiative, issued the following statement:
In the digital era, with 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges and universities now using background checks to screen applicants, a criminal record can be a life sentence to poverty that no judge ever handed down. While record-clearing remedies such as expungement and sealing offer a powerful tool to remove barriers to jobs, housing, and educational opportunities, it can be incredibly difficult in practice to get a record cleared due to the cost and complexity of petition-based record-clearing processes. As a result, research finds that just 6.5 percent of eligible individuals successfully get their records cleared.
As one of the most difficult states in which to get a record cleared, Virginia has long been in the Dark Ages when it comes to record-clearing. Prior to the passage of these bills, Virginia was one of only seven states that do not allow sealing or expungement of any criminal convictions; only charges not leading to conviction have been eligible for clearing. By expanding eligibility for petition-based sealing to include a broad swath of misdemeanor and felony convictions and creating a system to automatically seal nonconviction records, as well as marijuana possession and eight other types of misdemeanor convictions, Virginia is leapfrogging from the bottom of the heap to the leading edge when it comes to record-clearing policy.
The Virginia legislature and the many community groups that helped to shape this legislation, including Nolef Turns and the Legal Aid Justice Center, should be applauded for taking this critically important step to ensure that Virginians with criminal records are no longer relegated to the ranks of a permanent underclass. As leaders at all levels of government work to rebuild, removing government-created obstacles to employment will be essential to ensure a full and equitable economic recovery.
Virginia joins a growing number of states that have embraced automated record-clearing laws. Pennsylvania became the first state to automate criminal record-clearing with the 2018 bipartisan Clean Slate Act. In the first year since the law took effect in June 2019, Pennsylvania sealed more than 35 million cases, helping more than 1 million Pennsylvanians move on with their lives. Utah became the second state to enact a clean slate automated record clearance law in March 2019, and Michigan followed suit in October 2020 with what is now the most expansive automated record clearance law in the United States. New Jersey enacted a task force to shape an automated record clearance program for the state, and California has adopted a prospective-only automated record clearance program. States as diverse as Connecticut, Washington, North Carolina, Louisiana, and New Jersey have introduced or passed measures that move toward automated record-clearing, with momentum currently building in many more for state 2021 legislative sessions, including Delaware, Oregon, Texas, and New York, where “clean slate” campaigns have been launched in recent weeks. Bipartisan legislation to automatically clear certain federal records has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and was introduced in December 2020 in the U.S. Senate.
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