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April 11, 2013

Criminal records bill passes Indiana Senate

INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation that would allow some people with long-ago arrests and convictions in Indiana to wipe clean their criminal record has moved one step closer to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 1482 passed through the Senate Wednesday on a 39-11 vote and was sent back to the House for approval, because it was amended while in the Senate. On Thursday, the House author said he agreed with the changes made to the bill and would urge the House to follow suit.

The bipartisan-backed legislation allows for the court-ordered expungement of criminal records for mostly long-ago, low-level offenses. It’s been labeled as a “second chance” for ex-offenders whose past mistakes are immovable barriers to employment.

“This is a bill that’s really going to affect people for the good,” said Republican state Rep. Jud McMillin, a former deputy prosecutor from Brookville who authored the bill.

The bill had the strong backing of conservative Republicans and key Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson.

Indiana currently has a criminal records “sealing” law that allows people with arrests or convictions for low-level, non-violent crimes to get a court order to shield that record from public view after a number of years have passed. But it only applies to certain misdemeanors and some D felonies.

The expungement bill goes further and covers higher-level felonies as well. There are limits: Most sex and violent crimes are excluded and persons seeking to have their record expunged have to show they’ve stayed out of trouble for a number of years.

Prosecutors would have to sign off on the expungement for some higher-level crimes, and public officials who’ve committed a crime would have to meet a higher standard to have that crime expunged.

There are some crimes that can’t be wiped clean under the bill, such as murder or incest. The bill also includes other provisions: Crime victims have an opportunity to object to the record expungement in some cases, and prosecutors will still have access to criminal records that have been expunged from court records.

A critical element of the bill: A potential employer can only ask job applicants if they’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime that has not been expunged by a court. But it also protects employers from being sued if they hire someone who’s had their record expunged, but subsequently commits another crime.

The bill, if approved by the House as McMillin expects it will be, would next head to the desk of Republican Mike Pence for his signature or veto.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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