Democratic State Lawmakers Push to Automatically Expunge 1 Million Criminal Convictions

California has already moved to automatically expunge the records of those convicted of qualifying marijuana crimes. Now, Democratic lawmakers and advocates want to erase the records of those who have served their time for other crimes.

The lawmakers and dozens of supporters rallied in sweltering heat Tuesday supporting two Assembly-approved bills that would automatically expunge arrest and conviction records for an estimated 1 million residents who are already entitled under existing law because they have completed their sentences and supervision.

“Right now, if you serve your time you still can’t get housing, you still can’t get work, you still get treated like a criminal,” said San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, who authored one of the bills.

His bill would require the state attorney general to catalog qualifying arrest and conviction records of lower-level felonies and misdemeanors so they can be cleared. That’s similar to a law that took effect Jan. 1 requiring the attorney general to identify by July 1 those who are eligible to have their records scrubbed because California legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 and made the reduction in legal penalties retroactive.

Supporters of Ting’s bill and a related bill by Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta said the current expungement system is too cumbersome and too few take advantage even if they qualify. They count more than 4,800 California legal restrictions on those with convictions.

“Every right should be restored,” said state Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley. “Once you’ve done your time, that’s enough.”

Jay Jordan, executive director of the nonprofit Californians for Safety and Justice that organized the rally, said he served eight years in prison for a robbery he committed at age 18, and still bears the consequences 15 years later.

“I can’t sell real estate, can’t sell used cars, can’t sell insurance, can never adopt, I can’t coach my son’s Little League team, can’t join the PTA, can’t chaperone him on field trips,” he said. “It just harms people. It doesn’t make economic sense, doesn’t make public safety sense.”

A state association of law enforcement records supervisors opposes the bill, saying it would be costly and burdensome when people can already petition to have their records expunged. Legislative analysts said the bills could cost tens of millions of dollars, though Jordan said that would be offset by the economic benefits of letting more former felons get jobs.

The bills awaiting consideration in the state Senate would “unnecessarily put the burden on records management personnel, who are short staffed and without sufficient resources, to move arrest dispositions to an automated system, a very labor intensive and cost-prohibitive task,” objected the California Law Enforcement Association of Records Supervisors, Inc. The group fears it would also create a legal liability for agencies that inadvertently miss a qualifying record.

The lawmakers propose to use technology that can search for qualifying records, which Ting said can greatly reduce the time and cost.

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