MADISON – A coalition of Republicans and Democrats is renewing its effort to wipe out the criminal records of low-level, nonviolent offenders to make it easier for them to find jobs.
Legislators pushed a similar plan two years ago to expunge convictions but couldn’t get their bill to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers despite bipartisan support. Republicans control the Legislature, just as they did in the last legislative session.
“Expungement is a perfect example of how criminal justice reform and workforce development are closely linked,” Republican Rep. David Steffen of Green Bay said in a statement. “Once enacted, this proposal will provide immediate employment access for thousands of individuals who are looking to overcome their past and find success in the workforce.”
The Assembly approved similar measures in the last two legislative sessions, but they died when the Senate declined to take them up. With a new session starting, supporters can again try to get their bill passed.
Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke of Milwaukee, another backer of the bill, said he believed momentum for the measure continues to grow among Republicans. He noted former President Donald Trump had touted criminal justice reform and employers are clamoring for ways to help them find workers.
“It checks lots of boxes for conservatives,” Goyke said.
State law requires judges to decide at sentencing whether offenders are eligible to eventually have their criminal records expunged. Expunging records is available only to those who are under 25 and have committed misdemeanors or low-level felonies.
Under the legislation released this week, judges could decide after offenders complete their sentences whether to seal their records. That way, judges would have more information than they do now when deciding such matters.
In addition, the bill would make offenders of any age eligible for expungement. It would not change the types of crimes that are eligible to be expunged. To have their records expunged, offenders would have to have successfully completed their sentences, including by paying fines and fees.
Expunged records would not be visible on the state’s online database of court cases and the expunged crimes could not be considered by employers. Declining to hire someone because of an expunged conviction would be considered a form of job discrimination.
In addition to Steffen and Goyke, the bill is being sponsored by Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Democratic Sen. Kelda Roys of Madison.
The idea has faced opposition from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council in the past because it would keep information from the public.
“I wish that there were some trust in the ability of the citizens of Wisconsin to be discerning in their judgments about the public records that they can see,” the group’s president, Bill Lueders, said when the legislation was proposed two years ago.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.