Criminal history | Senate bill aims to help non-violent criminals
In February, BS 22-099 was introduced in the Senate and could help Colorado residents with nonviolent criminal histories get jobs and housing. The bill was originally drafted to help alleviate some of the impacts some people and businesses have faced post-pandemic.
The labor shortage that has plagued the state over the past two years has been the primary motivating factor for the bill’s introduction. The idea is that automatically sealing some criminal records could remove a barrier for those seeking employment with criminal histories and revive the state’s economy.
The bill would not change the crimes that could be sealed after a certain amount of time; it would just simplify the process. Currently, people with non-violent criminal histories must apply to the courts to have their records sealed, which can be a difficult process. The bill would remove barriers and create a system where a case would be automatically sealed after the time limit set by state law.
According to CNBC, a study was conducted by RAND Corp. and he found that 6% of men at age 35 are unemployed and 64% of those unemployed were arrested as adults.
The legislation already dodged its first hurdle by passing the Senate Judiciary Committee in late February. The bill which was drafted by Republican State Sen. Dennis Hisey (who represents Colorado Springs) has so far enjoyed bipartisan support since it was introduced.
According to Mark Wester, executive director of COMCOR in Colorado Springs, it’s hard to say how many people in the Colorado Springs area struggle to find jobs and housing with criminal records. “I regularly speak to customers about the challenges they face leaving Comcor,” Wester said. “They often describe that it is difficult to find accommodation and that the accommodation available to them is often in areas with higher crime rates. As a result, it negatively impacts their efforts to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Clients often ask our case managers and management to help them find safe and affordable housing.
Wester also said people with criminal histories who cannot find housing or employment are at a higher risk of repeat crime. “When I visit our clients, I often hear stories about how homeless and unemployed they were when they got involved in the criminal justice system,” Wester explained. “It’s often a cycle that repeats itself. It is in this context that people often become desperate and hopeless and turn to drugs to escape. Having a job and housing are therefore two important factors in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding conflict with the law. As with anyone in our community, job loss or lack of work and homelessness can be devastating, especially for people with criminal histories.
What exactly will SB 22-099 do if passed?
In 2017, Governor Polis signed HB 17-1266 in law – this automatically sealed misdemeanor marijuana charges since the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012 and possession of small amounts of drugs is no longer against the law. SB 22-099 seeks to extend this automatic sealing process to all criminal charges and civil offenses that are not subject to the Victims Rights Act.
For example, non-violent crimes and misdemeanors such as drug charges or theft are eligible for case sealing. But other crimes such as domestic violence or assault where there was a victim will not be available to seal.
The bill will also make it an “unfair employment practice” to fire or refuse to hire or promote someone based entirely on the contents of a sealed criminal record. If passed, the legislation will also make it an “unfair housing practice” to refuse to show, sell, transfer, rent or lease housing based on what is on someone’s sealed criminal record. ‘a.
Supporters of the bill
So far, SB 22-099 has been well received by both sides of the political spectrum. Many have spoken out in favor of it as a way to help people keep their jobs and find housing.
According to Senator Hisey (right) (who is the main sponsor of the bill), the idea of sealing records has been around for a long time in Colorado and the facts show how much it can help someone with a criminal history.
“After the record shutdown, 11% more people are in stable jobs and earning 25% more than before,” Hisey said. “So it’s good for the economy, it’s getting people back into the workforce, we have employers who love it, and it’s good for families.”
Since State Representative Kerry Tipper (D) is a lawyer, she has understood the need for this bill for some time. “The reason I’m really interested in this bill is that we’re seeing a labor shortage,” Tipper said. “We have employers who come to us and say, ‘We have people we want to hire, but because of a long-standing belief, we can’t.’ And we’ve heard that from people also trying to find a job. So what people may not realize is that even if their conviction is eligible for sealing, it can be quite a cumbersome process to go through. In most cases, you have to hire a lawyer and it is expensive. That’s why most people who are eligible to have their records sealed simply don’t.
The bill’s sponsors, including State Rep. Robert Rodriguez (D), felt that with the pandemic nearing its end, now would be a good time to introduce the new legislation. “During the COVID 19 pandemic, various circumstances have made it more difficult to hire and retain the workforce, in addition to the challenges of finding housing,” Rodriguez explained. “In order to ensure the security of Colorado’s economy and the well-being of individuals, sealed criminal records should not be used against potential employees or tenants. Allowing people to seek work and housing despite minor convictions will boost Colorado’s workforce and give more people the opportunity to find safe housing.
Opponents of the bill
When the bill was first introduced, the Colorado District Attorney Council (CDAC) was against the legislation. But since then, the CDAC has changed its position to “neutral” after some amendments were made.
“Our primary objection originally when the bill was introduced was that it removed a standard that currently exists in current law,” said CDAC Deputy Executive Director Arnold Hanuman. “Current law requires someone to petition to seal their record. They must demonstrate that the harm to them as an individual and the negative consequences of having this information available outweighs the interest of the public to have access to these records for public safety. This standard was going to disappear.
Therefore, while the bill was still in the Senate Judiciary Committee, an amendment was made that preserved this standard, prompting the CDAC to stop opposing the legislation.
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