Fair housing advocates and convicted felons alike urged lawmakers Tuesday to reform the state’s expungement laws, which they say provide a clean slate in name only.
The two dozen witnesses ranged from a 30-year-old Spicer mother who can’t complete her studies as a nurse because of her juvenile record, to a counselor who said he found work only because his record was sealed. In each instance, the theme was the same: Despite their best efforts to move forward, offenders can’t get past the blemish on their records.
In a decision last May, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that judges could seal only the court records of offenders who sought expungement, but executive branch agency records, such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or Department of Human Services. As a result, those records still show up in background checks, preventing applicants from finding work or housing.
Legislators are taking a closer look at the and Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, has drafted a bill that grants judges the power to seal all records related to an expungement. The bill, which he has called a “conversation starter” is the first of many proposed solutions that will be discussed next month.
Renee Zschokke, an employment counselor for ex-offenders, said her clients struggle to find work and housing, as ordered by their probation officers. Once a background check reveals their record, she said, they typically are rejected.
“This is where the rollercoaster ride begins. A motivated client can quickly fall into a state of hopelessness,” said Zschokke, also an advocate for Take Action Minnesota, a coalition of groups geared toward social justice. “A glimmer of hope is expungements.”
Rep. Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center, who co- chairs the group of legislators reviewing the issue, believes new law will arise from the discussions.
“I’m confident that we’re going to get something done this session.” She said.