NEW YORK - There are only two days left of the New York State legislative session and a bill known as the "Clean Slate Act" seems like it might have a chance at passing.
The Clean Slate Act would seal criminal convictions after a certain number of years, giving people with criminal records better access to housing, education, and jobs.
"There are 2.3 million New Yorkers with old conviction records," Katie Schaffer, with Community Alternatives explained. "Those roadblocks between people who have served their time and real opportunities to get back on their feet is partially what contributes to recidivism rates. So I would say this truly is a public safety bill as well as a justice bill."
According to sources, a tentative deal has been reached, although Governor Kathy Hochul denied this and said she is still reviewing the bill.
But an amended version of the Clean Slate Act was introduced this week. Here is the breakdown:
- Misdemeanor convictions would be sealed after three years.
- Felony convictions would be sealed after 8 years, as long as someone is off parole or probation and has no new charges or convictions. There are exceptions including sexual offenses and some Class A felonies such as murder.
- Another exception would be for people applying to jobs with law enforcement and work with vulnerable populations, this includes schools.
But Tony Jordan President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York says this process takes discretion away from judges.
"Here we go again leaving judges out of the process to say, what role should the person with the conviction - shouldn’t they have to make some showing that I’ve made an effort to improve my life?" Jordan explained.
Jordan says that DAASNY is in support of part of this bill that would allow some crimes to be sealed, pointing to a law that passed in 2017 that allows people to apply to have their records sealed. However, advocates have argued that very few people know this exists and even fewer have taken advantage of it.
But Jordan says automatically sealing records could have numerous unintended consequences.
"There is no cap on the number of felonies that you get to have sealed," Jordan explained.
This bill has a wide range of supporters from the business community, including the Business Council of New York, JP Morgan Chase and more.
However, the bill expressly writes that businesses will not be held liable.
"Now I would ask, if we're not concerned that something could happen, then why is there a need to remove liability," Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt questioned. "I think it's highly problematic and I have no doubt it will cause more victims."
The Clean Slate Act if passed would also allow people with sealed convictions to sue someone who discloses their criminal record if they are harmed as a result.