Legislatures across the country are increasingly concerned about irrational discrimination in the housing and job market that is based on old criminal records. There were more than 20 new expungement laws that either created or expanded the ability to expunge records in the past 3 years. Expungement has bi-partisan support, just as many Republican controlled legislatures passed expungement laws as Democrat legislatures. Expungement laws passed in conservative states such as Utah, Alabama and Oklahoma as well as liberal states such as California, Massachusetts and Illinois.
Is your criminal record online?
Records on Non Government Websites
However, lawmakers are becoming increasingly aware that passing expungement laws that only deal with courts and government agencies is not enough to prevent irrational discrimination based on old criminal records. There is increasing focus on background check providers, nosey neighbor type web sites, and mugshot web sites. Just last week, the Minnesota Senate passed HF 2576 and sent it on to the governor for approval. This bill takes aim at “screeners” by writing into a law that “If a business screening service knows that a criminal record has been sealed, expunged, or is the subject of a pardon, the screening service shall promptly delete the record.” This even makes it an actionable offense for a government agency to disclose an expunged record.
California Amends Labor Code
In 2013, California Governor Brown signed SB 530, which amended CA’s Labor Code to make it a misdemeanor for an employer to “seek from any source whatsoever, or utilize as a factor in determining a condition of employment, including hiring, promotion or termination” any record that has been judicially dismissed. The new law specifically listed those cases dismissed pursuant to Penal Code 1203.4, which is California’s so-called expungement law.
How Other States are Handling Mugshot Web Sites
The state of Utah passed laws specifically targeting mugshot web sites. Utah House Bill 408 prohibits booking photos from being shown on any websites that require payment to remove the image. Georgia Governor Deal signed a similar bill into law, House Bill 150, which requires mugshot web sites to remove images upon request without charging a fee. Lawmakers in Florida and Missouri have introduced similar bills.
Why Expungement Laws are Changing
The bottom line is that more and more lawmakers are realizing that the labels that they (government) put on people are causing irrational decisions in the marketplace, which leads to unemployment, underemployment, recidivism, bankruptcy, uncompetitive work forces and other problems— all of which have sizable costs to taxpayers. It is no longer a small problem that affects an unempowered demographic, it has the attention of state lawmakers and will continue to do so.