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June 06, 2017

'Clean Slate Act' to seal nonviolent misdemeanors advances in Pa. Senate

Legislation that would allow criminal records for low-level offenses or non-conviction cases to be automatically sealed was voted out of a state Senate committee Tuesday.

Dubbed the Clean Slate Act, Senate Bill 529 builds on a 2016 amendment to the state's Act 5 that allows people with certain types of misdemeanors to ask the courts to seal their records, after which they would be available to law enforcement but not the general public.

Under the bill, now up for a vote in front of the full Senate, records of nonviolent misdemeanor convictions would be automatically sealed after 10 years, so long as the offender stays crime-free in that time. It would also seal criminal records automatically if a defendant is not convicted.

The legislation is similar to a bill introduced in Harrisburg last year, but it includes "feedback from a range of stakeholders to streamline and improve" it, Sen. Scott Wagner (R-28) wrote in a Senate memo.

Wagner, the bill's primary sponsor, said in a statement that the bill would make it easier for those with a minor criminal history to lead a normal life.

"Someone who committed a minor offense 20 years ago should not still be judged for that crime today," Wagner said.

More than one-third of Pennsylvania's working-age population has some sort of criminal past, but the majority of cases involve misdemeanors, Wagner said.

Juveniles will not be included under the bill at the request of juvenile advocates who prefer the expungement process, Wagner said.

The House also has its own version of the bill, House Bill 1419, which is still in committee.