LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan House passed legislation Tuesday that would overhaul expungement laws to make it easier for hundreds of thousands of people to clear their criminal record, including those convicted of marijuana offenses before the drug’s legalization for recreational use.
Seven bills, approved with bipartisan support in the Republican-led chamber, were sent to Senate for future consideration.
One measure would, starting as early as 2022, provide for the automatic expungement of certain crimes without applications needing to be filed. Other “clean-slate” bills would shorten the waiting period before people could ask to set aside misdemeanor offenses and let those with misdemeanor pot convictions clear the offenses beginning in January if they would not have been crimes before voters’ legalization of marijuana in 2018.
“After someone pays their debt and proves themselves a solid citizen for a number of years, we can remove barriers to more easily see these folks not as former offenders but as employees, taxpayers and fellow members of communities,” said Rep. Eric Leutheuser, a Hillsdale Republican and sponsor of the automatic-expungement bill.
The package also would make many traffic offenses eligible for expungement, let more people with multiple crimes apply and require multiple felony offenses to be treated as a single conviction if they occur contemporaneously — within 24 hours, or as backers said, “one bad night.”
Rep. Tenisha Yancey, a Harper Woods Democrat, said crimes she committed at age 17 continue to “haunt me and follow me. … It hasn’t stopped me, but it has stopped so many other people from pursuing their dreams and their goals because they thought they couldn’t move forward or move past their worst mistake.”
The measures all passed with at least 95 votes in the 110-member House.
Certain serious crimes that carry a maximum punishment of life imprisonment could not be set aside, nor could certain criminal sexual conduct violations or offenses including drunken driving, child abuse and domestic violence.
The legislation is intended to revamp what detractors said are complex, costly barriers to wipe away one’s criminal past. Just 6.5% of eligible Michigan residents can successfully navigate the expungement process, amounting to a few thousand people each year, according to the Chicago-based Alliance for Safety and Justice.
Rep. Beau LaFave, an Iron Mountain Republican, said he “begrudgingly” voted against the bill that would ease people’s ability to seek the expungement of crimes committed within a 24-hour period. He pointed to a scenario where someone who stole a car that has a gun in it would be excluded from qualifying.
“I’m a little disappointed that fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and felony domestic abusers can have their records wiped clean under this bill package, but an individual who blew 0.8% and didn’t cause any injury, didn’t cause a crash and did no one any harm can never get their second chance,” he said.
If the GOP-controlled Senate OKs the bills and they are signed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan would become the fourth state to adopt broad automatic-record clearance laws extending beyond marijuana offense only, according to the Alliance for Safety and Justice.
Whitmer appears likely to sign the legislation if it reaches her desk. Spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor had taken proactive steps to implement the recreational adult-use marijuana law.
“Our office will review the bill package and look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure that Michigan residents do not bear a lifelong record for conduct they have served time for or that would now be legal,” she said.
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