September 25, 2008

HARRISBURG- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation today giving former offenders the opportunity to clear their criminal records of minor crimes. House Bill 1543, which was introduced by Rep. Tim Solobay (D-Washington County), passed the House this afternoon by a vote of 198-1 and was backed by a diverse group of advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

"The House recognizes that we can't afford to continue sending these offenders back to prison," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "This bill gives former offenders the chance to get a new start as they re-enter society."

If enacted into law, HB 1543 would allow former offenders who have committed summary offenses, second-degree misdemeanors under the age of 25, and third-degree misdemeanors to have an opportunity to have their records expunged after a period of years without another conviction. At a hearing on the issue in September, 2007, testimony from John Heaton, secretary of the board of pardons, indicated that HB 1543 could clear 20-35 percent of the board's caseload.

Advocates for expungement legislation emphasize that this kind of law is essential for the future employment, and success, of former offenders.

"If the commonwealth expects former offenders to integrate into society successfully, they need to be given the opportunity to earn a living," Hoover said.

With time running out on the current legislative session, the future of HB 1543 is unclear. In April, the Senate passed similar but weaker legislation. Senate Bill 232 allows the expungement of summary offenses.

"We're hopeful that the House and Senate can reconcile on this issue and send something to the governor," Hoover said. "If not, we and our allies are prepared to tackle it again next session."

Testimony from ACLU-PA legislative director Andy Hoover in support of HB 1543 is available here (101K, PDF).