Groundbreaking Automated Record Sealing with Broad Support Will Help Pennsylvanians Get a Second Chance
Today, a "Clean Slate" bill providing for automated sealing of qualified criminal cases (HB 1419) was passed by the PA Senate and will be sent to the Governor's desk. Governor Wolf has pledged to sign the bill, which will make Pennsylvania the first state to seal criminal cases by automated computer processes. The bill enjoyed remarkably broad support, including from legislators and advocacy groups that rarely find common ground.
Clean Slate provides for automatic sealing of arrests ending without convictions immediately, summary offense convictions after 10 years, and some misdemeanor convictions after 10 years. It also expands Pennsylvania's sealing law to include some first-degree misdemeanors.
Clean Slate is an extremely important bill for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians with old and minor criminal convictions or who were arrested but not convicted. Sealing a criminal case is a life-changing remedy for those who qualify, opening doors to employment, housing and education.
Clean Slate is the brainchild of Community Legal Services (CLS) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). CLS had been filing thousands of expungement petitions each year, but recognized that this filing process could only help the small fraction of people with records whom we could represent. With this in mind, CLS and CAP conceptualized an automated process to seal minor criminal cases. This reform was the lead recommendation in their December 2014 report, One Strike and You're Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records.
Clean Slate's bipartisan support is unusual in these contentious political times. The prime sponsors in the House were Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia), who often have strongly divergent political viewpoints, but came together on this bill. A comparable Clean Slate bill in the Senate (SB 529) was sponsored by the unlikely pairing of Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) and Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia). Governor Tom Wolf has called for the bill to be sent to his desk for his signature.
Clean Slate has enjoyed unusually broad support from wide variety of organizations from across the political spectrum. Notable among these groups are: the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO; Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity - PA; the Pennsylvania District Attorney Association; the Players Coalition, through Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long, and former Eagle Torrey Smith; and a large group of Pennsylvania-based organizations. A list of supporters is below.
The legislation also was supported nationally by the bipartisan Justice Action Network, comprising members as diverse as: the Center for American Progress; FreedomWorks; Americans for Tax Reform; the ACLU; Right on Crime; the NAACP; and the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services, said, "I commend the legislators and supporters who put aside their differences to come together behind Clean Slate. I also thank our clients who have worked on this bill for many others beyond themselves."
She continued, "The people who will be helped by Clean Slate were not given a life sentence for their relatively minor cases. But they are serving one just the same. Clean Slate will do so much good for so many people, at almost no cost."
Donna H is one of CLS's clients who will be helped by the bill. She said, "I have two old misdemeanor convictions from 1986 and 1998 that do not stand for who I am today. This criminal record kept me underemployed for years. It is very upsetting that my record remains a barrier for me after all this time."
Clean Slate also has attracted national interest. Efforts to replicate Clean Slate are underway in South Carolina, Colorado and Michigan. A Clean Slate bill applicable to federal criminal cases is expected to be introduced shortly.
People whose records are newly eligible for sealing under the bill can file petitions to seal their records 180 days after the bill is signed. Automated sealing will begin within two years of the signing, providing time for the Pennsylvania State Police and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to implement the needed computer changes.
Supporters of Clean Slate (HB 1419)
American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania
Americans for Prosperity Pennsylvania
A.Z.E. Supply Company, Inc., Horsham, PA
Broad Street Ministry
Center for American Progress
Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)
Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia
Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry
City of Philadelphia, by Mayor Jim Kenney
City of Pittsburgh, by Mayor William Peduto
Community Legal Services
Defender Association of Philadelphia
Duquesne University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, and Tracey McCants Lewis, Esquire
Female Opportunities Re-entry Program of Lebanon County
Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce
Harrisburg Regional Chamber
Interim House, Inc.
JEVS Human Services
Justice Action Network
Justice & Mercy
Just Resolutions, Gouldsboro, PA, and Carl Tobey Oxholm
Mental Health Partnerships
Montgomery County Public Defender Office, by Chief Public Defender Dean M. Beer
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Pennsylvania Bar Association
Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Pennsylvania Prison Society
Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity
REDEEMED and William Cobb
Resources for Human Development
Service Employees International Union Local 668
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776
Stephen Zappala, District Attorney of Allegheny County