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).