by Douglas Ankney
Forty-three states, along with the District of Columbia and the federal government, passed “consequential legislation” in 2019 aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records.
The 152 laws significantly or completely eliminated obstacles to societal reintegration in areas of employment, housing, voting, jury duty and other areas of daily life. According to a February 2020 report by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC), last year was “an extraordinarily fruitful period of law reform in the United States.”
The CCRC, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates for the removal of “legal restrictions and societal stigma that burden people with a criminal record long after their criminal case is closed,” has tracked legislative progress in this area since 2013.
Approximately one in three American adults — or 77 million people — had a criminal record, according the data collected by the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2018. The 152 laws passed in 2019 ranged from facilitating the expungement of criminal records for marijuana possession, the elimination of barriers to occupational licensing, and lifting restrictions on public housing.
The record number of laws passed in 2019 set in place a “reform trajectory [that] makes us optimistic that 2020 will be an even more productive year,” wrote authors Margaret Love and David Schlussel in the introduction to their report. Also, the CCRC included for the first time a report card that measured and compared the progress of individual states. (New Jersey won the title of “Reintegration Champion” for passing the most consequential legislation last year.)
Some highlights of the report include:
• Colorado, Nevada, and New Jersey passed laws making all convicted individuals eligible to vote except for those currently in prison. Iowa is now the only state that doesn’t automatically re-enfranchise most former convicted felons.
• 31 states and D.C. passed 67 laws that limited access to criminal records by sealing, expunging, or setting aside.
• Utah, California, and New Jersey authorized automated relief for a range of conviction and non-conviction records.
• Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and West Virginia enacted significant reforms to limit licensing agencies’ ability to reject qualified applicants based solely on a criminal record.
• Several states enacted or expanded “ban-the-box” legislation, bringing the total states to 35, along with D.C., that prohibit public employers from asking about criminal records on a job application. Thirteen states also prohibit private employers from asking the question while Congress enacted restrictions on pre-employment inquiries by federal agencies and contractors.
• Several states repealed laws that made suspension of driver’s licenses mandatory for crimes unrelated to driving, and for failure to pay court debt or child support.
Sources: thecrimereport.org, Collateral Consequences Resource Center
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