Pa. may seal criminal records on non-violent misdemeanor convictions

     Pennsylvania state Senators Anthony Williams, a Democrat from Philadelphia, (left) and Scott Wagner, a Republican from York County, are working together to reintroduce Clean Slate legislation that would help those with criminal records re-enter society. (Emma Lee/WHYY, Marc Levy/AP)

    Pennsylvania state Senators Anthony Williams, a Democrat from Philadelphia, (left) and Scott Wagner, a Republican from York County, are working together to reintroduce Clean Slate legislation that would help those with criminal records re-enter society. (Emma Lee/WHYY, Marc Levy/AP)

    Pennsylvania lawmakers have quietly reintroduced a bill that would make it simpler for residents to seal certain parts of their criminal records from the public — parts that may be keeping them from getting a job, an apartment, or other “necessities of life.”

    SB 529, better known as “Clean Slate,” would allow state police and the courts to automatically seal all non-violent misdemeanor convictions, including ones for theft, drug possession, and drunken driving.

    The measure also covers arrests that didn’t result in convictions because they “may be inherently harmed by the maintenance of that record and have a constitutional presumption of innocence.”

    To qualify, an individual must be conviction-free for at least a decade and have paid all court fees tied to his or her case.

    “That will allow for someone who’s paid their price to become a productive member of society,” said state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), one of the measure’s prime sponsors.

    State Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) is the bill’s lead sponsor.

    If passed, the measure is expected to give thousands the opportunity to seal their record, including clients at Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, a non-profit legal aid organization that works with ex-offenders.

    Executive Director Mike Lee said the bill would stop people from “self-selecting themselves.”

    “People are so afraid of being identified as having a criminal record that they’re not even trying for opportunities that are available to them,” said Lee.

    Right now, someone can only seal misdemeanor crimes by getting a lawyer and showing up for a hearing — sometimes more than one.

    It’s a process that can take the better part of a year to complete.

    Before Act 5, passed in November, the only way to seal or expunge these records was with a pardon from the governor. The effort often takes five years to finish if everything goes smoothly.

    The bill, projected to save money by reducing supervision costs and increasing tax revenues, has bi-partisan support and has been publicly backed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

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