State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, speaks during a news conference at the Pa. Capitol on March 7, 2023 (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).
A bipartisan bill expanding the state’s second chance law for former offenders is headed for the state Senate after clearing the state House by a broad margin earlier this week.
The ‘Clean Slate 3.0′ legislation, sponsored by House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, with Rep. Sheryl Delozier, of Cumberland County, as the prime Republican co-sponsor, passed in the lower chamber by a vote of 189-14, knitting together reform-minded progressives and pro-business Republicans.
The bill expands the state’s existing Clean Slate law, first approved in 2018, and then expanded in 2019, to allow more former offenders to have their records permanently sealed, clearing what is often a major hurdle for them to reenter the work force, obtain housing, or continue their education.
Under the proposal, people with less serious drug felony convictions would have their records automatically sealed after 10 years, if they have not had a later misdemeanor or felony conviction, according to a summary by the advocacy group Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
Other property-related felonies, such as theft, would be eligible for sealing after 10 years, with a court’s approval. The bill also shortens waiting period for sealing convictions for misdemeanor and summary offenses, the analysis indicated.
People who served time for more serious drug felonies, with sentences of 30 to 60 months or more, would not be eligible to have their records sealed, according to the analysis.
With the vote, the state is “one step closer to delivering #SecondChances through #CleanSlate 3.0!,” Harris tweeted on Monday. “Clean Slate has already helped seal over 40 million cases and improve the lives of over 1.2 million Pennsylvanians.”
Harris and Delozier pressed the case for the bill during last year’s legislative session. But the proposal never cleared the House Judiciary Committee, which was then controlled by Republicans.
With the gavel shifting to Democrats after the House changed hands during last November’s general election, the majority-Democrat Judiciary Committee approved the bill on May 3, sending it to the full chamber for a vote.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, state House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, praised the House vote, and appeared to position the legislation as another sign of change in the chamber now that it’s in Democratic hands.
“On Monday, the #PAHouse passed House Bill 689, also known as Clean Slate 3.0! The bipartisan passage of Clean Slate 3.0 is a CLEAR sign of progress in our state! Thank you, @RepHarris and @RepDelozier for pushing this bill across the finish line,” McClinton wrote.
But some Republicans also have pushed hard for the bill’s approval, with business leaders arguing for its economic benefits.
“Pennsylvania’s businesses are desperate for committed and skilled employees. Even with record-low unemployment, employers across the Commonwealth still face an unprecedented hiring shortage,” Alex Halper, the vice president of government affairs at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, wrote in a May 23 commentary for the Capital-Star.
Overall, the “underemployment of formerly incarcerated people costs the U.S. economy as much as $87 billion in GDP every year,” Halper wrote, noting that “employers who hire justice-impacted workers consistently report that their quality of work and contributions are either on par with or better than their peers, with notably lower turnover rates.”
If it’s eventually approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, Pennsylvania would join the company of 37 states that allow for some sealing of felony convictions, Community Legal Services said in its statement.
“This legislation would align Pennsylvania law with best practices and evidence-based policies,” Community Legal Services said in its statement.
“Recidivism research shows that a person with a drug conviction is no more likely to commit a new offense than the general population after just four years without another conviction, but people with felony convictions can face a lifetime of barriers to employment,” the group continued. “Applicants with drug felony convictions are twice as likely to be denied employment as someone without a record.”
A spokesperson for Senate Republicans told the Capital-Star that the bill “will be referred to the appropriate Senate standing committee for further examination.”
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