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PA Senate Considering Bill Allowing Criminal Records To Be Automatically Sealed After 10 Years

Matt Rourke
Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa.

On the heels of a survey finding Pennsylvanians support efforts to reform the state justice system, one lawmaker said he plans to introduce what he called “clean slate” legislation.

The surveyfrom the U.S. Justice Action Network found that 92 percent of Pennsylvanians support the general idea of breaking down barriers that prevent ex-offenders from getting jobs. At the same time, 81 percent said they support "clean slate" legislation that would seal certain non-violent criminal records.

Most states that have such laws, including Pennsylvania, require the ex-offender to petition the court for the change. State Sen. Scott Wagner, R- York County, is set to introduce legislation that would automatically seal the records after 10 years if no other crimes are committed.

“The legislation aims to give people the ability to obtain employment without being judged on past mistakes,” Wagner said. “The poll results are no surprise ...  People recognize that a criminal record should not be a life sentence.”

Wagner said half of the member of the Senate, including members in both parties, have signed on as co-sponsors.

The cost of petitioning the court to have criminal records sealed can be cost-prohibitive for some ex-offenders, which is why some support the automatic seal, he said.

Wagner said, with an estimated one-in-four Americans living with a criminal record, it makes sense to help ensure as many of them as possible are able to enter the workforce.

“I don’t even want to say, ‘Take a chance on such individuals,’” Wagner said. “This isn’t about gambling, this is about seeing the person for who they are today and what they can bring to your place of work.”

Supporters of the legislation said it will also make it easier for ex-cons to find housing.

State Rep. Jordan Harris, D- Philadelphia, said he will help shepherd the bill and other reform measures though the house.  He said the survey shows the pulse of the state is clear.

“And that pulse is that we should not be spending as much money as we are on locking people up, but that we should be creating pathways so that folks can reintegrate into our society and so that folks can be productive citizens,” he said.

Harris said he will also pursue legislation that would free judges from mandatory minimum sentences.