Based on our annual report on 2021 criminal record reforms, the bipartisan commitment to a reintegration agenda keeps getting stronger. A majority of the 151 new laws enacted last year authorize courts to clear criminal records, in some states for the very first time, and several states enacted “clean slate” automatic record clearing. Other new laws restore voting and other civil rights lost as a result of conviction, and still others limit how criminal record is considered by employers, occupational licensing agencies, and landlords. (The report includes specific citations to each of the new laws, and they are analyzed in the larger context of each state’s reintegration scheme in our Restoration of Rights Project.)
Again this year we have published a Report Card recognizing the most (and least) productive legislatures in the past year. While more than a dozen states enacted noteworthy laws in 2021, two states stand out for the quantity and quality of their lawmaking: Arizona and Connecticut share our 2021 Reintegration Champion award for their passage of three or more major pieces of record reform legislation.
- Arizona – The state enacted eight new laws, including a broad new record clearing law, two laws improving its occupational licensing scheme, and a judicial “second chance” certificate. Arizona also repealed a law authorizing suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay and authorized its courts to redesignate some felonies as misdemeanors.
- Connecticut – Enacted a major automatic record clearing scheme, restored the right to vote and hold office upon release from prison, provided for record clearing in connection with marijuana legalization, and broadened expungement for victims of human trafficking.
Another eight states and the District of Columbia earned Honorable Mention for their enactment of at least one major new law: Read more
In the first five months of 2021, seven states and the District of Columbia enacted nine separate laws improving opportunities for people with a criminal record to obtain occupational licenses. This continues a four-year trend begun in 2017 that has seen 33 states and the District of Columbia enact 54 separate laws regulating consideration of criminal record in the licensing process.
Our report on new legislation in 2020 noted that “[o]f all the criminal record reforms enacted during this modern reintegration reform era, no other approaches the regulation of occupational licensing agencies in terms of breadth, consistency, and likely efficacy.” Laws enacted during this four-year period have “transformed the licensing policy landscape across the Nation and opened opportunities in regulated professions for many thousands of people.” The only period of law reform that rivals the present one came during the early 1970s, when many of the laws now being revised and extended were first enacted. The effectiveness of advocacy efforts by the Institute for Justice and National Employment Law Project in influencing this trend cannot be overstated.
So far during 2021, the U.S. jurisdiction to have enacted the most ambitious and comprehensive licensing scheme is the District of Columbia, and its new law (described in detail below) is one of the most progressive in the nation. New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington had not previously legislated in this area for many years, and all three extended and improved laws first enacted in the 1970s. Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee extended recently enacted laws, with Arizona legislating for the fourth time in this area in as many years!
The nine new laws are described below, and have been added to the state profiles and 50-state charts of the Restoration of Rights Project.
Our new report on 2020 legislative reforms shows continued progress in state efforts to expand voting rights for people with a felony conviction. Despite a courtroom setback at the Eleventh Circuit, where a federal appeals court ruled that Florida’s landmark 2018 felony re-enfranchisement initiative does not restore the vote to people who owe court debt, two additional states and D.C. took major actions to restore voting rights to people convicted of a felony. Already in 2021, an impressive 19 states are considering bills to ease or eliminate prohibitions on voting based on a past conviction.
In 2020, California restored the vote to people on parole, via a ballot initiative amending the state constitution. Iowa‘s governor issued an executive order restoring voting rights to people convicted of most felonies after completion of incarceration and supervision. And the District of Columbia repealed felony disenfranchisement altogether so that even people in prison may vote. Since 2016, 19 states have taken steps to restore the right to vote for people with a felony and expand awareness about eligibility.
In 2021, at least 19 state legislatures are considering bills that would expand the franchise to those with a conviction:
- 5 states are considering measures to amend their constitutions or statutes to eliminate felony disenfranchisement entirely (Nebraska, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Virginia). They would join Maine, Vermont, and D.C., as jurisdictions that have fully abandoned felony disenfranchisement. Connecticut also has a proposed bill that to eliminate disenfranchisement for certain felony offenses and restore the vote after incarceration for the others.
- 10 states are considering bills to re-enfranchise individuals not presently incarcerated for a felony conviction: Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, Texas, and Virginia (Alabama’s bill would do so 5 years after release). The Washington measure is sponsored by newly elected Rep. Tarra Simmons, believed to be the first Washington state lawmaker formerly convicted of felony.
- The only 4 states remaining without a statutory mechanism for re-enfranchisement (Kentucky, Iowa, Mississippi, Virginia) are considering measures to restore the vote upon completion of incarceration and supervision, or earlier, for a disqualifying offense (in the case of Mississippi, after incarceration and parole only; in the case of Iowa, 5 years after completion of incarceration and supervision; Virginia has proposals to eliminate disenfranchisement completely or restore the vote upon release). These four states currently make re-enfranchisement wholly dependent upon discretionary gubernatorial action (or in Mississippi, discretionary legislative action).
- In addition, Tennessee has a pending bill that would remove requirements that a person has paid all restitution and court costs, and be current on child support, before voting rights may be restored. Maryland and Missouri are considering bills to facilitate voting in jails for eligible individuals, and Maryland has another bill to require individuals released from correctional facilities and/or on community supervision to be informed that they are eligible to vote. Nebraska also has a pending bill to remove the two-year waiting period after completion of a felony sentence for voting rights restoration.
Our full report on 2020 criminal record reforms is available here. For an overview of loss and restoration of voting rights, see our Sept. 2020 national survey and our 50-state comparison chart. In addition, our Nov. 2020 report documents which states treat unpaid court debt as a barrier to regaining the vote.
In 2017, state legislatures produced a bumper crop of laws restoring rights and opportunities, with 24 separate states enacting new legal mechanisms to facilitate reentry and reintegration. Based on pending bills and laws already enacted this year, 2018 promises to be similarly productive. In March, the governors of Florida, Utah and Washington all signed into law new measures expanding their existing restoration schemes. Washington enacted a ban-the-box law applicable to both public and private employment, and both Florida and Utah expanded their laws authorizing expungement of non-conviction records. These new authorities are described in the post that follows, and can be seen in the context of related laws in the state profiles in the Restoration of Rights Project.
While none of these first enactments of 2018 is particularly remarkable standing alone, they deserve mention as harbingers of things to come. More than thirty additional states have restoration bills pending, and half a dozen of these are well along in the enactment process. We will be tracking restoration bills through the year, and will report periodically in this space – particularly when a significant new law is enacted. We also hope to produce in 2018 another annual report on Second Chance Laws enacted during the year, as resources permit.
Since 2013, almost every state has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in civil society. It has not been an easy task, in part because of the volume and complexity of state and federal laws imposing collateral consequences. To encourage employers and other decision-makers to give convicted individuals a fair chance, some states have enacted or modified judicial restoration mechanisms like expungement, sealing, and certificates of relief. Others have extended nondiscrimination laws, limited criminal record inquiries, and facilitated front-end opportunities to avoid conviction.
In partnership with the NACDL Restoration of Rights Project, the CCRC maintains a comprehensive and current state-by-state guide to mechanisms for restoration of rights and status after conviction. As a part of keeping that resource up to date, we have inventoried measures enacted and policies adopted by states in the past four years to mitigate or avoid the disabling effects of a criminal record, and present it here as a snapshot of an encouraging national trend.
Washington State courts are now authorized to grant certain individuals a Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP), which prohibits many state licensing entities from disqualifying the holder solely based on his or her criminal history. A CROP also protects employers and housing providers from liability for negligent hiring and renting. The new certificate authority was created by HB 1533, which was signed by Governor Jay Inslee on March 31 and took effect last month.
In light of the trend toward giving courts responsibility for restoring legal rights and certifying rehabilitation, we took a closer look at who is eligible for this newest judicial certificate and the benefits it confers. Read more