House Lawmakers Seeking Legislation to Clear Criminal Records of More Ex-Offenders

September 16, 2019

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is seeking a legislative reform package aimed at clearing the criminal records of more Michigan's ex-offenders. Given that many employers rely on criminal history background checks in the hiring process, the Michigan Chamber is studying the proposal and is looking for member feedback.

It is estimated that as many as one in three Americans has some kind of criminal record. Proponents of change say having a criminal record can be a lifelong sentence for millions of Americans, particularly because technology offers easy access to public records. As a result, individuals whose crimes were minor, are decades old, or both, face a stigma that harms their employment, education and housing prospects —even after years of law-abiding living.

The House proposal, led by Graham Filler (R-Dewitt), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, provides an overhaul of the current expungement process. It includes the following components:

  1. Expungement Expansion – This bill is modeled after the Ohio expungement law. Under current law, an individual can only apply for expungement if they have no more than one felony or two misdemeanors. Under the legislation, the individual could apply if he or she has three or less felonies, none assaultive and no out-of-state assaultive convictions. For individuals with assaultive crime, they can apply to have up to two felonies and four misdemeanors expunged. If they have one felony, they can apply after seven years. They can apply after five years for a serious misdemeanor and after three years for misdemeanors with no felonies. It is important to note that, under expungement, criminal records become non-public—but remain visible to law enforcement.
  2. Clean Slate Legislation - This bill would provide for automatic expungement if none of the crimes were assaultive or a serious misdemeanor and it’s been 10 years since the person was removed from the court system.
  3. Marijuana Expungements – This bill would expunge marijuana convictions if the facts of the case show that the behavior that led to the conviction would be permissible under current law (like medical or recreational marijuana statutes).
  4. One Bad Night – This bill would specify that, for the purposes of expungement, crimes that were committed in the same act (e.g. within 24 hours, with similar intent) may be treated as a single felony or misdemeanor if none of the crimes were assaultive, none of the crimes involved a possession of a weapon and none of the crimes had a maximum penalty greater than 10 years.
  5. Traffic Offenses – This bill would allow for expungement of traffic offenses, none of which are eligible for expungement under Michigan’s current system. The bill would specify that Driving Under the Influence and Operating While Intoxicated (DUI/OWI) offenses and offenses causing serious injury or death, etc., would not qualify.
  6. Shorten Misdemeanor Timeline – This bill would shorten the separation period from the criminal justice system for misdemeanors from five years to three years if no other crimes have been committed.

Some employers and local chambers of commerce support the legislation because they believe it is the right thing to do for individuals who want to change their lives and become productive. Others support the proposal to increase the size of Michigan’s labor pool. However, some employers have questioned how the proposal would interact with federally mandated background checks, state/federal contracts and existing tax credits for hiring the formally incarcerated. Others have questioned whether it’s a good idea to blindfold employers on important hiring decisions—versus allowing them to self-regulate and/or find accommodations based on their findings. Other employers have questioned whether more crimes should be exempt from the expungement provisions (e.g., embezzlement, cybersecurity, more driving offenses). 

We want to know what you think. Please send your comments to Wendy Block at wblock@michamber.com. Thank you in advance for helping us with our decision-making process!