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‘Clean Slate’ supporters renew effort for record sealing

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Supporters of a measure that would seal criminal conviction records in New York are making a renewed effort to have the stalled legislation gain passage in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature this year after a campaign season that heavily focused on criminal justice law changes in New York.

The bill would seal criminal records several years after conviction and is meant to boost employment and housing opportunities for people who have finished their sentences. But the measure, known as the Clean Slate Act, has been sought for the last several years in Albany, but last-minute opposition has doomed its chances of passage.

Supporters of the bill are trying again ahead of the start of the new legislative session in January.

On Tuesday, as lawmakers meet in Albany for a hearing on the development of the workforce in New York in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition of labor unions, businesses and advocates is highlighting their support for the bill.

Business support has remained from JPMorgan Chase and the bill continues to draw support from the influential labor union District Council 37. Supporters have estimated 2.3 million New Yorkers would be affected by the measure’s passage while also creating a new pool of potential talent to draw from in the process.

 “While there are a number of factors contributing to reduced labor force participation rates, we know that 78 million people – one in three Americans – face barriers to employment due to an arrest or conviction record,” said Nan Gibson, the executive director for public policy for JPMorgan Chase’s policy center. “JPMorgan Chase is committed to giving people across the country a second chance. But to achieve systemic change, we need improved public policy, including common sense measures like Clean Slate.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul last year backed the broadstrokes of the proposal. But it’s not clear how far some Democrats in Albany would want to go after Republicans sharply criticized adjacent criminal justice law changes like changes to cash bail during the campaign.

It’s also not the only criminal justice measure advocates are seeking this year. A coalition has also formed to call for changes in New York’s sentencing law in order to tackle mandatory minimum sentences in criminal convictions they argue are too long.

Still, supporters believe the mix of economic arguments along with the criminal justice reform pitch can work with the election behind the Legislature.

“Sealing these records will provide fair access to job opportunities that can be the way out of poverty for hundreds of thousands of families,” said Henry Garrido, the executive director of District Council 37. “Passing this legislation is simply the right thing to do.”

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