ALBANY — Supporters of a measure that would seal criminal records in New York are looking for a fresh start and focusing on the bill’s economic impacts.
A diverse coalition including labor unions, criminal justice advocates and even Fortune 500 companies are renewing their push for the Clean Slate Act, arguing it could boost economic growth, help businesses desperate for new hires and also address long-standing racial inequities in the legal system.
“The biggest crimefighter we have is opportunity,” Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), one of the bill’s main sponsors, told the Daily News. “It’s jobs, it is housing, it’s stability, all of the things we want our communities to be filled with.”
Under the bill, criminal records would be automatically sealed after three years for misdemeanors and seven years for felonies once someone has successfully completed their sentence, is not on community supervision and has not incurred any new charges or convictions.
Civilly sealed convictions would then not show up in most background checks for employment or housing but would still be accessible to law enforcement for court and prosecution purposes.
Advocates and backers of the bill plan to rally across the state Thursday, hosting events in the city, Albany and other key locations, as they call attention to the measure ahead of the upcoming legislative session.
“Clean Slate matters tremendously to millions of people who, years or decades after they complete their sentences, continue to face barriers to jobs and to housing that make it hard to support themselves and their families,” said Katie Schaffer, director of advocacy and organizing with the Brooklyn-based Center for Community Alternatives.
It’s not just criminal justice groups rallying behind the bill, which was approved by the Senate in June but failed to come up for a vote in the Assembly, but big business and labor unions as well.
Companies including JP Morgan Chase, Verizon and Microsoft, as well as the Business Council of New York State, have come out in support of the measure.
A recent analysis by the Brennan Center found the legislation would generate an estimated annual earnings boost to the state of $7.1 billion. Over 2 million New Yorkers have a conviction record that can hamper efforts to get a job or even an apartment after they’ve served their time.
The measure could be life-changing for the formerly incarcerated, especially minority New Yorkers since 80% of individuals in New York City with conviction records are Black or Latino.
Gov. Hochul has expressed support for the reform in the past, mentioning it in her first State of the State address back in January, and past polls have shown strong backing for the bill.
However, the measure was dropped from budget negotiations during the last legislative session and supporters are now hoping to win over holdouts in the Assembly after other criminal justice reforms including cashless bail have become lightning rods of controversy.
“I’m hoping that this … doesn’t have the same vitriol and the same reactionary conversations because this is really a pro-jobs bill in favor of public safety,” Myrie said. “Whether you describe yourself or characterize your political beliefs as conservative or liberal, everyone should be in favor of giving individuals the opportunity to participate.”