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Clean slate bill to include all misdemeanors, some felonies

February 26, 2020 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A bill unveiled Wednesday would go further than a previous proposal and expand the kinds of convictions that can be erased from criminal records in Connecticut.

The legislation announced by lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut would allow some low-level felony convictions and all classes of misdemeanor convictions to be expunged after a period time as long as the offender has no new convictions. The bill differs from similar legislation first introduced by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont during his State of the State speech on Feb. 5 that would only automatically erase convictions for Class C and D misdemeanors — the lowest misdemeanors — if, after seven years, the offender was not not convicted of new crimes.

“At its base many of us have said or heard that ‘if you do the crime you do the time’ and yet we don’t function that way as a society,” said state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who is crafting the bill. “When my mother was telling me as a child that she believed in ‘if I did the crime I did the time’ she did not mean for the rest of my life.”

Advocates have applauded the governor for engaging on the issue but say his bill doesn’t go far enough and should deal with the more serious convictions, which can keep people from getting housing or result in discrimination.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California, Utah, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have similar so-called clean slate laws enacted.

Traci Bernadi, who works with the ACLU of Connecticut, said after she was released from prison roughly five years ago she found it difficult to “exist in a world where people discriminate against their fellow human beings” because of their previous criminal record.

“If a person has demonstrated successful reintegration, they should have a chance at a clean slate,” she said.

Marc Pelka, the top criminal justice aide to the governor, said he and the governor are excited to sit down and talk about the bill once they received a copy of it.

“I think what’s encouraging is that we agree on the goal. It’s working out the details is the work that remains,” he said.

Winfield said he would like to see all convictions — from Class A felonies through all misdemeanors — eligible for erasure, he said his bill at least helps open up the conversation.

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Chris Ehrmann is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage, in a partnership with The Associated Press for Connecticut. The AP is solely responsible for all content.