Bumper crop of new expungement laws expected in 2019
Earlier this year we reported that, in 2018, legislatures enacted an unprecedented number of new laws aimed at restoring rights and opportunities for people with a criminal record. (Last year 32 states, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands enacted 61 new laws to facilitate reentry and reintegration.) The first quarter of 2019 has already produced a baker’s dozen of new restoration laws, some quite significant, indicating that this year is likely to be every bit as productive as last. The 13 new laws enhance access to record-clearing relief, occupational licensing and employment, and executive clemency. Also notable, if only for the sheer number of people who will benefit when the law goes into effect on July 1, is the Virginia legislature’s accession to Governor Ralph Northam’s request that it “eliminate the unfair practice of revoking a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay court fines and fees,” which will immediately reinstate driving privileges to more than 627,000 Virginians.
This year to date, state lawmakers have focused most of their attention on improving access to record-clearing: 8 of the 13 new laws expand eligibility for expungement and sealing and streamline applicable procedures. The two most significant new laws were enacted in Western states. Utah’s HB 431—signed by Governor Gary Herbert on March 28, 2019—provides for automated sealing relief for certain non-conviction, infraction, and misdemeanor conviction records. When it takes effect on May 1, 2020, it will be the nation’s second “clean slate” law in operation (Pennsylvania’s first-in-the-Nation 2018 clean slate law will be implemented over a 12-month period beginning in June 2019). Utah also clarified that employers may not ask about—and an applicant for employment need not disclose—expunged convictions (except under narrow exceptions for public employment).
New Mexico’s Criminal Records Expungement Act (CREA) for the first time authorizes courts in that state, upon application, to limit public access to adult records, including both felonies and misdemeanors, as well as non-conviction records. HB 370, signed by the governor on April 3 and effective January 1, 2020, provides graduated eligibility waiting periods depending upon the seriousness of the offense, and applies to all but a handful of crimes. Other highlights from the new record-closing laws include expanded sealing eligibility for adults in Kentucky and West Virginia, and for juveniles in Nebraska and Wyoming.
Occupational licensing reforms were enacted in Ohio and Utah that regulate how licensing boards may consider criminal records, continuing a recent push for reform in this area. Both states will now allow individuals to request at any time a preliminary determination whether their record would disqualify them from holding a license. Ohio will also require licensing boards to publish on the internet a list of all criminal offenses for which a conviction would disqualify a person. In addition, New Mexico extended its “ban-the-box” law to private employment, requiring employers to delay consideration of an applicant’s criminal history in the hiring process.
Finally, South Dakota streamlined its clemency process by allowing two members of the pardon and parole board to make clemency recommendations to the governor (rather than a majority of the nine-member board).
The 13 new laws enacted to date in 2019 are described in further detail below, and have been added to the state profiles in the Restoration of Rights Project. We will be tracking restoration bills throughout the year, and will report periodically in this space – particularly when a significant new law is enacted.
Utah – Clean slate; effect of expungement
On March 28, 2019, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed HB 431, a highly significant “clean slate” law that will automate expungement or deletion of a variety of criminal records when it takes effect on May 1, 2020. Acquittals and dismissals with prejudice are eligible. Certain infractions, misdemeanor convictions, and pleas in abeyance are eligible under a complex set of criteria. Automated relief will apply both to cases adjudicated on or after May 1, 2020, and to cases adjudicated before that date, with separate procedures for each category. 77-40-116(1)(a) and (1)(b). A more detailed explanation of this new law can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Utah profile.
On March 25, 2019, Governor Herbert signed HB 90 (effective May 14, 2019) that makes clear that an applicant with an expunged criminal record seeking employment from a private employer “may answer a question related to an expunged criminal record as though the action underlying the expunged criminal record never occurred.” § 34-52-301. The new law also clarifies that a public employer may not make an inquiry related to expunged criminal history—and an applicant may answer such a question “as though the action underlying the expunged criminal record never occurred,” except for preexisting exemptions for certain types of public employers, volunteer work, or when consideration of criminal history is required by law. § 34-52-201. More information can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Utah profile.
New Mexico – First general authority to expunge adult records
In 2019, New Mexico enacted a comprehensive law authorizing expungement (sealing) of most non-conviction records, and of conviction records for all but a limited number of crimes, including those involving serious violence and sexual assault. See HB 370, signed into law not yet codified. Effective January 1, 2020, the Criminal Record Expungement Act (CREA) authorizes courts to limit public access to most non-conviction records after a one-year waiting period, as long as no charges are pending against the individual. Courts are also authorized to limit public access to the record of most convictions after waiting periods ranging from two to ten years, depending upon the seriousness of the offense, with no intervening convictions. The court must find that “justice will be served by an order to expunge,” applying a multi-factor test. Under current law, New Mexico law contains no judicial authority to seal adult records, and an administrative authority to seal non-conviction records applies only to some misdemeanors. Upon taking effect, CREA will give New Mexico one of the broadest record-closing authorities in the Nation. More information about this important new law can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, New Mexico profile.
West Virginia – Expanded eligibility for expungement to some felonies
On March 25, 2019, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed into law SB 152, which will significantly expand the availability of expungement when it becomes effective on June 7, 2019. The law extends eligibility for expungement beyond the limited class of youthful misdemeanants that benefit under existing law, and also makes certain felonies eligible for expungement relief for the first time. (It repeals a 2017 law that authorized reduction of these felonies to misdemeanors, but withheld expungement.) Violent and sexual crimes are ineligible. Under the new law, persons convicted of eligible misdemeanors may petition for expungement one year after conviction, or completion of incarceration or supervision if later. The waiting period is extended to two years for persons convicted of more than one eligible misdemeanor, and to five years for eligible felonies. Persons who have completed substance abuse treatment or graduated from a state-approved job training program may seek relief after an abbreviated waiting period (90 days for a single misdemeanor; one year for multiple misdemeanors; three years for felonies). Employers required by state or federal law to conduct a background check may access expunged convictions. More information can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, West Virginia profile.
Kentucky – Expanded expungement eligibility and procedural reforms
On March 26, 2019, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed SB 57 (effective June 26, 2019), which makes several changes to Kentucky’s expungement law, expanding non-conviction and felony eligibility. First, the new law will make charges dismissed without prejudice eligible for expungement after a 5-year waiting period (under current law, such charges cannot be expunged). § 431.076. Second, certificates of eligibility will no longer need to be sought prior to a petition to expunge a non-conviction record (but are still required for a conviction record). Third, the new law expands eligibility to vacate, dismiss, and expunge class D felony convictions. A 2016 law had made a specific list of class D felony offenses eligible (or multiple eligible felonies stemming from a single incident). Prior to that, Class D felonies were only eligible if adjudication was deferred. Under SB 57, any Class D felony or a “series” of such felonies will be eligible, except for violations of Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 189A.010 (DUI), 508.032 (domestic assault), or 519.055 (impersonating a peace officer), abuse of public office, a sex offense, an offense committed against a child, or an offense that resulted in serious bodily injury or death. § 431.073. If a prosecutor objects to expunging a Class D felony from this expanded set of offenses, the applicant must show by clear and convincing evidence at a hearing that vacating the judgment and expunging the record is consistent with public welfare and safety, supported by the applicant’s behavior since conviction, and warranted by the interests of justice. Id. More details about this law can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Kentucky profile.
Nebraska – Automatic sealing of juvenile records expanded
On March 27, 2019, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB 354 (effective three months after the legislature adjourns in 2019), which makes a host of changes to facilitate the sealing of juvenile records. Most notably, this new law expands automatic juvenile sealing (which already covers non-conviction dispositions) to include satisfactory completion of juvenile probation, supervision, or other treatment or rehabilitation program or a county court probation or sentence. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-2,108.03. More details about this law can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Nebraska profile.
Wyoming – Juvenile expungement procedures strengthened
On February 15, 2019, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed HB 44, which makes several changes to strengthen Wyoming’s juvenile expungement laws, effective effective July 1, 2019. These changes include the following. No filing fee may be charged for a petition to expunge juvenile records. A state or municipality may petition to expunge juvenile records. Prosecutors have 20 days to object to a petition for juvenile expungement, after which the court may summarily grant the request. A minor admitted to a diversion program or granted a deferral, or whose arrest, charges, or disposition do not result in conviction or adjudication, may petition to expunge municipal and circuit court records in the same manner as juvenile records. Expungement of juvenile records (and certain municipal and circuit court records involving minors) is defined to mean destruction of records. More details can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Wyoming profile.
Virginia – Automatic expungement for absolute pardons
On February 27, 2019, Governor Ralph Northam signed HB 2278, which takes effect on July 1, 2019. This new law will entitle a person who receives an “absolute” pardon to automatic judicial expungement—no petition need be filed with the court. Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-392.2(I). (Absolute pardons are generally granted only for innocence.) More details can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Virginia profile.
Ohio – Preliminary determination of whether record disqualifies from occupational licensure; publication of disqualifying convictions
On December 27, 2018, the Ohio Legislature enrolled SB 225, which became law 10 days later without action by the governor. Effective April 5, 2019, anyone who has a conviction may request at any time that a licensing authority determine whether the conviction disqualifies the person from obtaining an occupational or professional license. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 9.78(B). A fee of no more than $25 may be charged. Id. Within thirty days of receiving a request, the licensing authority must inform the person of its decision (the decision is not binding if the licensing authority determines that the person’s convictions differ from what was included in the request). Id. In addition, licensing authorities must make available on the internet a list of all criminal offenses for which a conviction would disqualify a person from obtaining a license. § 9.78(C). More details can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Ohio profile.
Utah – Preliminary determination of whether record disqualifies from occupational licensure
On March 25, 2019, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a law that will allow a person with a criminal record to apply at any time for a determination of whether their record would disqualify them from obtaining a license in an occupation or profession regulated by Title 58 of the Utah code, when it takes effect on May 14, 2019. See HB 90; Utah Code Ann. § 58-1-310. A fee may be charged. Within 30 days of receipt of a completed application, the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing must make a written determination, and the decision may include additional steps the individual could take to qualify for a license. Id. This new law also amends the definition of “unprofessional conduct” in § 58-1-501(2), based on which a license may be denied or restricted. Existing law defines “unprofessional conduct” to include, among other things, a plea or conviction for a crime of moral turpitude or a crime that bears a “reasonable relationship” to safe or competent performance of the occupation. § 58-1-501(2). The new law replaces “reasonable relationship” with “substantial relationship.” See id; HB 90. More details can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, Utah profile.
New Mexico – Ban-the-box in the private employment
On April 3, 2019, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed SB 96, which will extend “ban-the-box” to include private employers when it goes into effect. Under the new law, if a private employer uses an employment application, the employer may not make an inquiry regarding an applicant’s criminal history. (Enacted as new section of N.M. Stat. Ann. § 28-2-1, et seq.) Nonetheless, an employer “may take into consideration an applicant’s conviction after review of the applicant’s application and upon discussion of employment with the applicant.” And an employer may notify the public or an applicant that the law or the employer’s policy could disqualify an applicant with a certain criminal history from particular positions. Id. More details can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, New Mexico profile. (Note that the ban-the-box law applicable to public employers in New Mexico is considerably more protective of individuals with a record, prohibiting inquiries until the applicant has been selected as a finalist, and disallowing consideration of non-conviction records and misdemeanors not involving “moral turpitude.”)
South Dakota – Streamlined clemency process
On February 5, 2019, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed HB 1005, which authorizes a hearing panel of two Board members appointed by the chair to make clemency recommendations to the governor. See HB 1005 (repealing the requirement in S.D. Codified Laws § 24-13-4.6 that commutation and pardon recommendations be made by a majority of the nine-member board, and making conforming amendments to §§ 24-15A-10 and 24-15A-11). A new provision of § 24-15A provides for review of a panel’s decision to deny a pardon recommendation by the full Board, which may “adopt, modify, or reject the panel’s denial and recommend a pardon.” More details can be found in the Restoration of Rights Project, South Dakota profile.
Virginia – Reinstatement of drivers’ licenses
An amendment to Virginia’s 2019 budget bill specifically requested by Governor Ralph Northam to “eliminate the unfair practice of revoking a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay court fines and fees,” was accepted by the legislature on April 3, 2019. See HB 1700. When this law becomes effective on July 1, it will immediately reinstate driving privileges to more than 627,000 Virginians.
- Making the research case for hiring people with a conviction record - January 12, 2024
- “Advancing Second Chances: Clean Slate and Other Record Reforms in 2023” - January 8, 2024
- Round-up of 2023 record-clearing laws - January 4, 2024
- A New Year’s wish: New life for the pardon power! - January 2, 2024
- Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws - December 6, 2023
- Comments on SBA proposal to eliminate criminal history loan restrictions - November 16, 2023
- Minnesota enacts four major record reforms in 2023 - October 18, 2023
- SBA takes one step toward fair chance lending, but needs to take another - September 7, 2023
- CCRC seeking a Deputy Director - June 13, 2023
- Biden Administration announces actions to promote reintegration - April 28, 2023