Bill would create new path to clearing criminal records

Bill would create new path to clearing criminal records
iStock / zimmytws

State lawmakers are trying to make it easier for those who committed crimes as young adults to get a job.

A bi-partisan effort headed by Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee and Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, would change the process called “expungement.” Under state law, offenders ages 17-25 can ask a judge to wipe their record clean if they complete their sentence, but that request must currently be made at the time of sentencing.

“We are the only state in America that has that timing of that decision at the sentencing hearing,” Goyke said.

The Goyke-Steffen bill would change the process to allow offenders to petition for expungement after completion of their sentence, and would also remove the offense from not only publicly-available Circuit Court Access (CCAP) records but the deeper “Crime Information Bureau” records that employers use to do background checks.

“Just imagine what it would feel like to be a young person and to wake up tomorrow with that scarlet felony conviction removed,” Goyke said. “The pep in your step to go back into the workforce and get a job.”

Alan Robinson is currently in a YWCA program learning how to be a web developer. The 36-year-old has a criminal history he is trying to overcome with job retraining.

“Being a convicted felon is a difficult thing,” Robinson said. “My criminal history is criminal traffic violations mainly and I have a number of OWIs, one of which is a felony.”

Robinson’s first offense was at age 21 and while he could have asked to have his record expunged, he didn’t.

“Those doors were closed before they were even presented,” Robinsons said.

He looks at the expungement bill effort as a positive step toward helping those who may have a criminal history, asking those who may be skeptical about wiping clean the records of those who made mistakes in their youth to be understanding.

“I would tell someone who believes that that, that it could very well have been them,” Robinson said. “I’m really hopeful and really confident that our community embraces a much more forgiving and and and sympathetic eye towards all of the members of this community.”

Robinson admits that because his criminal history continued after his first offense, he wouldn’t get the benefit of the bill.

“But the effort isn’t necessarily for me,” Robinson said. “The effort is for the ‘we.'”

He’s trying to prove on his own that everyone deserves a second chance at building a better life.

“I think that your positivity, your motivation, all those things have to come from inside,” Robinson said. “A person has to be positively encouraged and motivated on their own.

Goyke and Steffen are looking for co-sponsors on their bill right now. There is another bill proposed by Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, to change the expungement process to post-sentencing, but it is not retroactive and does not remove the other layer of court records. Lawmakers would have to find agreement on these two bills for it to move forward out of the Legislature to the governor’s desk.