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Bill Would Seal Minor Offenses After Crime-Free Period

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is backing new proposals to give a person’s low-level criminal offenses a limited shelf life in Pennsylvania.

Plans in the House and Senate would automatically seal low-level criminal records in Pennsylvania after a person has had no criminal activity for five to 10 years. The legislation builds on a plan enacted into law this year to let people with minor offenses ask a judge to seal their criminal records.

“This is taking it one step further,” said Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin). “I think Pennsylvania is finally realizing the barriers that people have. This is not an urban issue, a rural issue, or a suburban issue, this is a real person issue and it’s really hindering people from moving forward.”

Advocates say a criminal record can be a barrier in going to college, finding housing, or landing a job. Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) said having a low-level offense in your past shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

“I was handicapped as an executive at PepsiCo in terms of who I could hire even though I managed people who really just drove trucks,” said Williams. “And as a state senator I’ve hired people with records and there’s not been one person I’ve hired with a record that has not worked out to serve the commonwealth effectively.”

Under this so-called “clean slate” bill, nonviolent misdemeanors would be automatically obscured from the public after the person is crime-free for 10 years, and summary offenses would be hidden after five years without criminal activity. Law enforcement officials would still have access to full criminal records.