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Bills Wipe Slate Clean For Thousands Of Former Convicts

November 5, 2019

An estimated 100,000 Michigan residents, “and then just keep going,” will be helped by a seven-bill package expanding expungement eligibility approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee, according to Chair Graham Filler (R-DeWitt).

“There are so many folks that do not fit within the current eligibility and then we are adding low-level traffic offenses. That right there, if you ever had a misdemeanor traffic offense you are now eligible when you weren’t before. That’s why that traffic offense bill is so important because it reaches those driving without a license, driving with a suspended license, letting someone else drive your vehicle without a license, all those are not eligible. It has always been a blanket no traffic offenses,” Fillers said.

Filler noted the public education aspect of the legislation. Previously, many didn’t know they were eligible for expungement.

“We sort of opened it up to the public. I will tell you, we received the most positive phone calls. I’m not used to that in the Legislature, receiving positive phone calls from individuals, saying this gives me hope, this will help with housing going forward, this is probably my favorite aspect of it,” Filler told reporters following the vote.

The package — HB 4980 – 4985 and HB 5120 — passed in a series of 13-0 and 12-1 votes.

The lone dissenter was Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), who said he does support the package in concept.

“The biggest inhibitor for my constituents, and many in northern Michigan, is not a felony domestic, which we are going to be expunging under this bill package, but would be first time OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) offenses. Why we have decided to move forward on allowing spouse beaters and domestic abusers, where they got convicted of a felony, to expunge that but not first time OWI not causing injury or death, I think is not fair. And I think those folks deserve a second chance, just like the marijuana folks are going to get under this package.”

If OWIs were expunged after seven years, LaFave said, those drivers could get commercial driver’s licenses or work as delivery truck drivers.

LaFave offered that as an amendment to the traffic offense expungement bill, but Filler told the committee he’d be voting no because he believed that would cause the bill to lose support.

But Filler and Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) said they’d be willing to consider it in future legislation.

“You know, sometimes we let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Filler explained. “This is the ultimate example here. You have a great bill that’s going to bring relief, that’s common sense, that’s supported by stakeholders, and then you risk killing it by shooting for the moon.”

The package would allow for automatic expungement after 10 years have passed since the date of conviction and probation was completed or from the date the person was discharged from parole or released from incarceration. All restitution has to have been paid.

Not more than two felony or four misdemeanor convictions could be automatically expunged.

Currently, a person with a felony and no more than two misdemeanors can petition to set aside the felony offense. If the person has no felonies, he or she can have two misdemeanors set aside.

Under the package, assaultive crimes and serious misdemeanors would not be eligible for automatic expungement.

“I will tell you that there is a more robust definition of what is an assaultive crime,” Filler said, explaining a substitute voted Tuesday. “We added domestic violence, stalking, assault and battery, home invasion, child abuse. We also exempted from automatic felony crimes involving a minor, a vulnerable adult, injury or serious impairment, death or any violation related to human trafficking. And then a request from stakeholders was to exempt serious crimes of dishonesty, that’s embezzlement, extortion, cybersecurity, and racketeering and we felt that was a common-sense request so that is written into the bill.”

Filler said the package will help those trying to reform and rebuild their lives. A University of Michigan Law School study published this year found that people whose criminal records are cleared tend to see their wages, on average, increase 25% within two years.

Lawmakers who sponsored a bill in the package included Reps. Eric Leutheuser (R-Hillsdale), Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet), Luke Meerman (R-Polkton Twp.), Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), LaGrand, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) and Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit)

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