States Passed Record 94 ‘Restoration’ Laws So Far This Year

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Sculptural Group by Daniel Chester French. Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr

The nationwide movement to help the formerly incarcerated restore their rights and re-integrate with civilian society is picking up steam this year, with a record number of 94 state laws passed in 36 states during the first six months of 2019, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC).

An “eye-popping” total of 75 laws was passed by 26 states in the second quarter of 2019 alone, the CCRC said.

In some cases individual states passed multiple laws to address long-standing discrimination against individuals with criminal records. Texas, for instance, passed five laws removing restrictions on occupational licensing. In New York State, 12 separate measures were contained in the state’s 2020 budget bill.

In contrast, just 61 restoration laws were in place in 32 states and two territories at the end of 2018—which was itself a record up to that time.

“State legislatures across the country are moving quickly and creatively to repair some of the damage done by the War on Crime, which left a third of the adult U.S. population with a criminal record,” the Center said.

The new laws covered areas such as voting rights, record-sealing, occupational licensing, and immigration.

However, in one case, efforts to restore rights for returning citizens took a “step backward,” the Center noted.

A measure passed last November by Florida voters permitting former felons to vote has been curtailed by an amendment requiring Individuals to pay accumulated court fines and fees before they can cast a ballot.

Many supporters of the new laws passed in the last three months believe they demonstrate growing bipartisan support for justice reform.

The CCRC predicted the passage of more “restoration” laws through 2019.

Below is an abbreviated summary of some of the key statutes. More details, along with a state-by-state analysis are available here.

Information about the Center’s Restoration of Rights project can be accessed here.

Voting Rights

Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada all expanded voter eligibility for formerly incarcerated individuals. Colorado, Oklahoma, and Washington added explicit policies to increase “voter awareness” so people with a criminal record know their voting abilities.

Additional Reading: Poll: Majority of Tennesseans Back Felon Voting Rights

Record Expungement

Most states have begun addressing who, and under what circumstances, if someone can access another’s criminal record. 46 of the 75 new laws enacted over these past three months saw and expansion of, “…eligibility for expungement and sealing, and streamline or automate record-closing procedures, in a variety of ways.”

Those states include: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Washington.

Additional Reading: Project Clean Slate Helps Detroit Residents Wipe Criminal Records

Occupational Licensing

It can be difficult and daunting to find a job that requires credentials which may not be available given a criminal record. Now, a series of new state laws open doors of opportunity for people to get occupational licenses that would’ve been impossible before.

States with the new statutes include: Alabama, Arizona,  Arkansas, Mississippi, New York, Texas, and West Virginia.

Many eliminated “good moral character” as a licensing criterion. On the grounds that it is a “vague and highly subjective” definition, according to the Center.

Immigration 

Three states have changed sentencing laws to aid non-citizens in avoiding deportation.

Colorado and New York both limited the potential penalty for certain misdemeanors to 364 days imprisonment, thereby avoiding the automatic deportation trigger that comes with conviction carrying a potential prison sentence of one year or more,” reports CCRN.

These states become the sixth and seventh to adopt “364-day legislation” joining Washington, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Utah that have made non-citizen aid advancements in the past few years.

Oregon, joining Iowa, “removed a guilty plea requirement from its controlled substances diversion statute, making this benefit available to non-citizens without exposing them to deportation.”

Miscellaneous Legislation

      • Colorado added private employment to its ban-the-box law;
      • Mississippi and New York offenders no longer lose their driver’s licence after a drug crime;
      • Montana and Virginia repealed “laws mandating loss of a driver’s license for failure to pay court costs”;
      • New York “barred private parties’ reliance on non-conviction records to deny employment and housing, and outlawed release of booking information and “mugshots” by police departments without a law enforcement purpose”; and
      • Connecticut established a “Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record,” tasked with created recommendations for new laws to “reduce or eliminate discrimination based on criminal history.” by February 1, 2020.

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR news intern.

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