Wagner leading charge on sealing nonviolent criminal records

David Weissman
York Dispatch
State Sen. Scott Wagner. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Pennsylvania could soon become the first state in the nation to automatically seal criminal records for minor, nonviolent offenses.

Helping to lead the charge on the proposed legislation is state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, who spoke about the proposal Tuesday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 529, termed "Clean Slate" legislation, is sponsored by Wagner and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Delaware and Philadelphia counties, with House Bill 1419 serving as a companion bill.  The bill's co-sponsors include local Reps. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, and Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City.

A companion bill is a similar bill introduced in the opposite chamber to help expedite the passage of legislation in the House and Senate.

The "Clean Slate" bill would create a process by which nonviolent misdemeanor convictions are automatically sealed after a person has gone 10 years without any additional violations. Records of alleged crimes where no conviction was attained would also be sealed under this legislation.

Watch:Wagner speaks in support of "Clean Slate" bill

It would not apply to certain offenses, including crimes involving firearms, sexual offenders and cruelty to animals.

Employment: Wagner, as president and owner of Penn Waste and KBS Trucking, told the committee that he sees firsthand how criminal records can limit employment opportunities.

Many employment applications include a check "yes" or "no" box regarding whether an applicant has criminal convictions.

Wagner said he would still bring an applicant who checks "yes" in for an interview, and he has hired many great employees with prior convictions, but he knows many employers use that question to quickly dismiss an applicant.

“Someone who committed a minor offense 20 years ago should not still be judged for that crime today,” Wagner said in a news release.

Sealing a criminal record is different from expunging it because law enforcement still has access to criminal records that are sealed.

The "Clean Slate" bill, if passed into law as written, would mean those whose records are sealed would not be required to disclose their conviction — except to certain federal agencies — and may respond to questions about prior convictions as if they never happened — meaning they could legally check "no" in response to such a question on an employment application.

Other efforts: Wagner's bill unanimously passed out of committee Tuesday and awaits a full Senate vote. The House companion bill still awaits consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.

Wagner and Williams proposed a similar bill last session, but it was never brought up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Gov. Tom Wolf in a 2015 file photo.

Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Act 5, which allows nonviolent offenders who are arrest-free for 7 to 10 years to petition the court to seal their records.

Wolf also announced in May that state agencies would be removing the criminal conviction question, or "banning the box," on noncivil service employment applications. 

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.