The following is an excerpt from our recent annual report on legislative reforms, Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019.
For the first time this year we have prepared a “Report Card” on how state legislatures performed in 2019 in advancing the goals of reintegration. We have not covered all states, only those we thought most and least productive. We hope this new feature of our annual reports will provide an incentive to legislatures across the nation, and a tool for legislative advocates.
|New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year.
In this inaugural year, New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year. New Jersey’s “Clean Slate” law authorized an automated record-clearing process for many thousands of misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades, and extended eligibility and improved procedures for petition-based discretionary expungement relief. New Jersey enacted two other important laws promoting reintegration. One limited felony disenfranchisement to people in prison, immediately restoring the vote to about 80,000 people still completing their sentences in the community. Unlike the executive orders that have this effect in New York and Kentucky, New Jersey’s law will not be easily retracted when the statehouse changes hands. Another new law repealed provisions mandating suspension of driver’s licenses for conviction of drug and other non-driving crimes, for failure to pay court debt, and for failure to pay child support.
In commending New Jersey’s legislative accomplishments, we would be remiss not to recognize the key role played by Governor Phil Murphy in making criminal record reform the cornerstone of his legislative agenda, and by key legislative leaders, who together persuaded the legislature to enact in a single year a bolder set of reintegration laws than any other in the country to the present time.[i]
|As runner-up, Colorado enacted 10 laws on criminal records, voting rights, ban-the-box, and immigration.
Colorado is runner up for our new Reintegration Champion award, based on a prolific legislative record that is a close second to New Jersey’s. In 2019 Colorado enacted ten record reform laws, among them an ambitious rewriting of its code chapter on criminal records, a law restoring voting rights to parolees and one extending ban-the-box to private employers, and two new measures to avoid deportation as a consequence of conviction. Colorado’s productive 2019 followed an almost equally productive 2018, when its legislature regulated occupational licensing agencies and gave its courts authority to remove mandatory collateral penalties.
|Honorable mention goes to 6 states (IL, MS, NV, NM, ND, WV) for productive legislative seasons, while 5 other states (AR, DE, CA, NY, UT) were recognized for a specific notable new law.
Honorable mention for a productive legislative season goes to six states: Illinois and Nevada (with nine and eight laws, respectively, some significant); New Mexico and North Dakota (for their comprehensive first-ever record-sealing schemes, and ban-the-box bills); Mississippi (for its extensive regulation of occupational licensing, management of diversion courts, and repeal of mandatory driver’s license penalties for drug and other non-driving crimes); and West Virginia (for two significant laws, on record relief and occupational licensing, as well as a diversion bill). Five additional states deserve recognition for notable enactments: Arkansas for a major revision of its occupational licensing law; California and Utah for their automated record relief laws (though Utah’s scheme is not as far-reaching as New Jersey’s, and California’s is prospective only); New York for two measures to limit access to undisposed (pending) cases; and Delaware for its first comprehensive expungement scheme.
Low marks go to three of the seven states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2019: the legislatures of Alaska, Georgia, and Michigan have been the least productive in the land in recent years where restoration of rights and status is concerned. Kansas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania also produced no new laws in 2019, but all four states enacted major record reforms in 2018 so we give them a pass.
We conclude by noting that many of the states not mentioned in this inaugural Report Card made progress last year in limiting access to and use of criminal records, and we were hard-pressed not to single a few more of them out for credit. It is clear to us that almost every state sees criminal record reform as an important and challenging legislative agenda. We anticipate that in 2020 states that have been comparatively cautious in their recent law-making will be inspired to take larger steps as they see what more ambitious jurisdictions have already been able to accomplish.
Note: In response to this report, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tweeted:
Read the full report here.
[i] See, e.g., Governor Murphy’s statement accompanying his “conditional veto” in August 2019 of an early version of the bill that would become the Clean Slate law that he signed on December 19, 2019. In that statement, after applauding the legislature’s extension of eligibility for petition-based expungement, he noted the example set by Pennsylvania’s own Clean Slate law the year before:
“Only those individuals who actually apply for an expungement, meaning those who are aware of this potential remedy and have the wherewithal to navigate the legal process or afford an attorney to assist them, would be able to seek the relief afforded by the expungement process. This method is not the most efficient means for clean slate expungement, nor will it deliver relief to all eligible individuals who need it. To avoid this shortcoming, we should follow the lead of Pennsylvania and undertake the necessary steps to establish an automated, computerized expungement system that would allow people with multiple convictions for less serious, non-violent crimes who maintain a clean record for ten years to clear their criminal histories without having to hire a lawyer or wade through a paperwork-intensive process. Our system is not set up to do this now, and undertaking this task will require buy-in and commitment from all three branches of government. On behalf of the executive branch, that is a commitment I am more than willing to make.”
See https://www.state.nj.us/governor/news/news/562019/docs/S3205CV.pdf. Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin were particularly effective partners in the negotiations that resulted in the bill that was approved by the legislature in December.