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Senators hope to change state law allowing for automatic expungement (Mar. 25, 2024)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Two bipartisan lawmakers are pushing to help more than half a million Missourians have their arrest and conviction records expunged.

Supporters say the purpose of this bill is to provide a second chance. Right now, the state allows for certain minor offenses to be expunged but requires the offender to apply to have their record wiped clean. This legislation would create automatic expungement.

“We’re not asking you to change who is eligible; we’re just asking you to cut the red tape, make the process automatic for those of us that already are,” Fran Marion testified in front of a Senate committee Monday.

Marion is one who traveled to Jefferson City to ask senators to approve the Clean Slate bill, which would provide an opportunity for types of nonviolent criminal records to be sealed under state law.

“Clean Slate is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, said. “Clean Slate can be done safely. That can actually make our communities safer by growing our jobs and our economy and our state. To qualify, people must serve their full sentence and remain crime-free.”

Senate Bills 763 and 1161 are sponsored by Williams and Sen. Curtis Trent, R-Battlefield, with the hopes of making it easier for previous offenders to go back to school or find a job.

“If we want people to be able to turn over a new chapter in their lives to put past criminality behind them to become productive members of society, in short, I think this is one commonsense way I think we can accomplish that,” Trent said.

Marion, who is a Missouri Workers Center member, is a single mother of two, who has worked in fast food for more than 20 years. She told the committee she was arrested back in 2009 in Poplar Bluff after struggling to keep up with bills and was caught cashing a bad check worth $700.

“I have accepted that what I did was wrong, and I take responsibility for my action but to this day, I still can’t believe the severity of the consequences that I’m still paying,” Marion said. “No matter what I do or how hard I work, society sees the punishment of a life sentence with a record.”

The legislation would make existing expungement laws automatic, so people can have their records wiped clean without taking further action.

“I’m still being prevented from maximizing my potential by dealing with the collateral consequences of prison and probation terms that I served over 11 years ago,” Kansas City resident Patricia Royal told the committee.

Royal said once she was released from prison, she enrolled in dental assistance school to avoid recidivism. Once she graduated, she was unable to get a job in the industry because of her felony.

“So, that was several thousand dollars thrown down the drain,” Royal said. “I’m here today to challenge you all to set away the weight of being a Democrat or a Republican and to focus on the humanity, focus on the compassion, love, and equity.”

Those in opposition told the panel of senators it could cost the court system more by requiring more staff.

“I know the term automatic is used and it is automatic in terms of the perspective of the individual who meets the criteria, but we would have to go through program development on this,” Missouri Supreme Court Government Relations Counsel Eric Jennings said.

Those carrying a record said, it’s costly to apply for expungement, with such a low percentage of those eligible able to obtain it. According to the Missouri Workers Center, more than 500,000 Missourians are eligible for expungement but there’s only a 1% success rate.

“I had someone believe in me and wanted to give me a chance,” Rebecca said. “Not everyone has that and so I’m just asking that those that do qualify that you do please allow us to have a clean slate.”

Williams helped changed the state’s expungement law two years ago, by changing the time a petition for expungement can be filed. Previously, those with misdemeanor nonviolent offenses used to have wait three years before they were eligible. That number was reduced to one year. For nonviolent felony offenses it was previously seven years before lawmakers approved to lower it to three.

Roughly a dozen other states have already approved similar legislation. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the fiscal analysis for the bill says there are more than 10 million records that could possibly be expunged under the legislation.

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