Wagner bill would give some criminals a clean slate

Greg Gross

Searching and applying for a job can be one a very stressful endeavor. That stress can be compounded if the person job searching has a criminal record, even for just a minor offense.

"It can be a recipe for your employment application being thrown in the trash," said Rebecca Vallas, the managing director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.

But a set of companion bills to be introduced in the Pennsylvania House and Senate would give nonviolent offenders a clean slate by sealing their criminal records after a period of time.

Flanked by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, unveiled details of the bills during a press conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg on Wednesday.

"People make mistakes," he said. "These are nonviolent offenses that would be sealed."

What they do: The bipartisan measures, Senate Bill 1197 and House Bill 1984 — aptly dubbed "Clean Slate" legislation — would automatically seal records of people who commit nonviolent misdemeanors after 10 years and records of those who committed summary offenses after five years provided they don't commit additional crimes.

Lawmakers said that will give nonviolent offenders who have proven they aren't career criminals a better chance of obtaining employment, being accepted into college or renting a home. People with nonviolent misdemeanors who haven't committed a crime within four to seven years are not likely to re-offend.

If a college student is convicted of underage drinking, that crime shouldn't keep that person from getting a job later in life he or she is otherwise qualified for, said Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland County, a sponsor of the House bill.

"Mistakes happen and good people get caught up in a bad situation every day," she said.

Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia and Delaware counties, a sponsor of the Senate bill, said the bills also provide a clean slate from the state's previous belief that the best was to combat crime was simply to lock up criminals without providing clear paths to rehabilitation.

State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, who listened in on the news conference, said he is co-sponsoring the House version of the bill.

Gov. Tom Wolf said he supports the bill, calling it "a common sense, positive and unprecedented" step in the right direction.

Barriers: An estimated one in three Americans have some type of criminal record, and that translates to about 3 million Pennsylvanians, according to the Center for American Progress.

Many of those with records committed only minor crimes, such as misdemeanors or summary offenses, but those records can create barriers throughout their lives, lawmakers said.

Vallas noted children of parents who have records are also impacted since their parents can't provide for them because of employment obstacles.

Some colleges also run background checks on prospective students. A minor offense that would pop up during a background check could prevent them from being accepted.

The community college HACC, which has a campus in York City, doesn't ask about criminal records as part of its application, said Britta Schwab, career services coordinator at HACC's York campus.

"We believe in access for all," she said. "We don't want to add additional barriers."

Ellie Lamison, senior manager of workforce development with the York County Economic Alliance, said sealing records would help increase the workforce. The alliance hasn't decided yet if it will support the bills, but it's the type of legislation officials there will discuss.

Often an application for employment is tossed because of a person's criminal record, she said.

"There's a large pool of individuals who could be good employees who aren't making it through the process," she said.


Crispus Attucks, 605 Duke St. in York City, will play host for an informational event for criminal offenders who are seeking employment opportunities.

The event, co-hosted by HACC's York Campus and other organizations, includes  a panel discussion on employment success, local employers hiring ex-offenders and information on educational opportunities.

The free session will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 25.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.