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Pennsylvania House expands Clean Slate law, adds some felonies to automated criminal record sealing

Red roses bloom before the Pennsylvania state capitol building
Amy Sisk
90.5 WESA
The Pennsylvania Senate is expected to take up its own version of Clean Slate 3.0 legislation soon. Supporters expect it to resemble a bill the state House passed on Monday, June 5.

The Pennsylvania House voted 189-14 Monday to pass a bill that would enact the automatic sealing of certain felony convictions. The sweeping support within both parties mirrors public opinion that overwhelmingly backs “Clean Slate” policies.

Known as Clean Slate 3.0, the newly approved legislation would allow low-level drug felonies to be automatically hidden from public view after 10 years free of additional convictions. Property-related felonies such as theft and forgery could also be sealed a decade after conviction, pending court approval. The state Senate is expected to take up similar legislation soon.

Although Pennsylvania passed the nation’s first Clean Slate bill in 2018, it remains one of just 13 states that do not allow for any sealing of felony convictions. If Clean Slate 3.0 becomes law, Pennsylvania will join five other states that already allow automatic record-clearing for certain felonies.

The nonprofit Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has championed the measure, along with a diverse collection of allies that includes the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and Americans for Prosperity.

“[The bill is] really important from a standpoint of racial justice, [and] it really helps people who were suffering from addiction themselves,” said Katie Svoboda-Kindle, a senior staff attorney at Community Legal Services. “There are so many people who ended up with felony convictions for drug offenses when they themselves were suffering from addiction.”

While disparities in drug arrests remain pronounced between Blacks and whites, a 2021 study shows that the two racial groups use illicit drugs at similar rates.

Svoboda-Kindle noted that business groups think the new Clean Slate bill will help to grow the labor pool by removing criminal background checks as a barrier to hiring for some applicants. Prosecutors, meanwhile, anticipate public safety benefits, Svoboda-Kindle said.

“Not only are you clearing records of people who are years past their conviction, but also it helps them access employment, access better housing. And those things decrease recidivism,” she said.

Research shows that, after three to seven years without a subsequent offense, people with records are no more likely than the rest of the population to be rearrested.

Under the House’s Clean Slate 3.0 bill, drug felonies would not be eligible for sealing if they result in a prison sentence of 30 months or longer.

By contrast, the legislation would shorten the waiting period to clear misdemeanors and summary offenses. Today, people must wait a decade before such minor offenses are sealed. The House bill would reduce that period to seven years for misdemeanors and five years for summary offenses.

In 2020, the state legislature approved Clean Slate 2.0 to allow sealing in cases where court fines and costs are still owed. Community Legal Services estimates that 1.2 million Pennsylvanians have benefitted from the automatic clearing of minor crimes from their records.

An April poll shows that roughly 80% percent of voters in each political party support efforts to expand eligibility for automatic record sealing to non-violent drug offenses. Susquehanna Polling and Research found a similar level of support among households that had been victims of crime. The firm completed the survey on behalf of the Justice Action Network, a national group that seeks to revamp the criminal justice system.