Oklahoma and California win Reintegration Champion awards for 2022 laws

On January 10 we posted our annual report on new laws enacted in 2022 to restore rights and opportunities to people with a record of arrest or conviction. Like our earlier reports, it documents the steady progress of what we characterized two years ago as “a full-fledged law reform movement” aimed at restoring rights and dignity to individuals who have successfully navigated the criminal law system.

This year’s criminal record reforms bring the total number of separate laws enacted in the past five years to more than 500. Posted below is our fourth annual legislative Report Card recognizing the most productive states in 2022.

Reintegration Awards for 2022

While more than a handful of states enacted noteworthy laws in 2022, two states stand out for the quantity and quality of their legislation:  California and Oklahoma share our 2022 Reintegration Champion award for their passage of at least two major pieces of record reform legislation.

  • California – Enacted a whopping 11 new laws, including the broadest general record clearing law in the nation, a direction to courts to effectuate clearing of marijuana records, removal of restitution as a bar to clearing criminal records, easing access to judicial certificates of rehabilitation, and simplification of the process for certifying people with criminal records to work in community care. California’s governor also vetoed a bill that would have facilitated background screening by eliminating court-imposed restrictions on online access to personal identifying information.
  • Oklahoma – Enacted a major automatic record clearing law and the most sweeping update to an occupational licensing scheme of any state in the country this year. Oklahoma also passed a significant law allowing young people who successfully complete the state’s youthful offender program to have their charges dismissed and expunged.

Another eight states earned an Honorable Mention for their enactment of at least one significant new record reform law:

  • Colorado – Expanded automatic sealing to include all offenses eligible for petition-based sealing, reduced the waiting period for low-level drug possession from three years to two, and enhanced procedural rights of those applying for occupational licenses.
  • Connecticut – Made it easier for people with felony convictions to work in dozens of occupations under the state department of public health and authorized a binding preliminary determination.
  • Delaware – Enacted the “Fair Chance Licensing Act,” establishing a binding preliminary application process, providing that many records may not be grounds for denial (convictions over 10 years old with no intervening convictions; pardoned, sealed, or expunged convictions; non-conviction records; and juvenile adjudications). Even “substantially related” crimes must be given an opportunity for a waiver via a board vote. Delaware also authorized automatic expungement of records of charges lacking a final disposition and prohibited higher education institutions from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history.
  • Indiana – Eliminated the one-year waiting period for sealing non-conviction records, including uncharged arrests, and made this relief automatic.
  • Louisiana – Strengthened and extended its occupational licensing law, by establishing a binding preliminary determination, providing for appeal, bringing many new boards under its general licensing limits, and adopting new factors to be considered in determining “direct relationship.” The state also provided unusually broad record relief for victims of human trafficking.
  • Maryland – Legalized the personal use of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, authorized resentencing and expungement of marijuana conviction records and established a business assistance fund that prioritizes individuals with cannabis convictions. Maryland also enacted a law removing state authority over the delinquency of children aged 13 and under.
  • Missouri – Missouri voters amended the state constitution to legalize personal use of marijuana, and at the same time authorized release from prison for those serving prison sentences for marijuana trafficking, provided for automatic expungement for numerous marijuana convictions upon completion of sentence, and extended preference in commercial licensure to sell legalized marijuana to those with convictions. In addition, Governor Mike Parson has become the most prolific pardoner in the state in more than 40 years, working efficiently to reduce a case backlog built up over many years.
  • Rhode Island – Legalized adult possession of small amounts of marijuana, provided for automatic expungement of convictions for decriminalized marijuana offenses, and waived costs as a bar to expungement for anyone who has been incarcerated for a marijuana offense.

Low marks go to two states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2022. While there are many other states in this category this year, the legislatures of Alaska and Wisconsin earn their place at the bottom of the heap for having been equally unproductive in 2021, 2020 and 2019, years in which almost every other state passed at least some law limiting access to and use of criminal records.  Wisconsin’s one saving grace is the extensive record of pardoning by Governor Tony Evers in the past 30 months, during which he has pardoned more than 600 individuals, 325 in 2022 alone.

Looking ahead to 2023, we expect to see a continuing expansion of eligibility for record clearing, and reduction of access barriers like lengthy waiting periods, outstanding court debt and application-related costs.  We also predict efforts to improve records management to accommodate automation of record clearance.  We look for extension of state fair employment laws, and further facilitation of occupational licensing, both areas where bipartisan reforms have benefitted from helpful model laws. We are slightly less optimistic about additional progress toward dismantling the structure of felony disenfranchisement, which has become mired in faction looking toward the presidential race in 2024. Hopefully, 2023 will see some record reform action in Congress and federal agencies, including measures to extend access to government-guaranteed loans and contracting opportunities to small businesses owned or managed by people with a criminal history. We have come a long way just in the past five years, but there is still a long way to go.