The disputed “Clean Slate” legislation, set to seal criminal records for a range of crimes from misdemeanors to felonies, is nearing approval by New York state lawmakers.
Supporters say the legislation expands the workforce and gives individuals who have served their sentences a fresh start. Critics, however, argue it helps offenders and undermines public safety and victims’ rights.
Under this proposed legislation, those who have completed their sentences, parole, or probation would have their records sealed after three years for misdemeanors and seven years for felonies, provided they have not committed additional offenses in the interim.
Governor Kathy Hochul supports the legislation’s concept but says technical amendments are still being considered. She said, “We’re just down to the technical changes that we’re having conversations about. So we don’t have the final version yet but it is something conceptually I do support.”
Other leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, are optimistic about passing the bill before the session’s end.
The proposed bill excludes individuals convicted of sex crimes and wouldn’t affect media coverage of past crimes. Certain groups, including law enforcement agencies, courts, prosecutors, schools, and companies like Uber, could still access the sealed records. The Department of Motor Vehicles and government officials would also maintain access to records for driving-related jobs and firearm permits during the application process.
However, the proposal to include serious crimes such as murder has drawn criticism, especially from Republican lawmakers. Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay calls the legislation another win for career criminals and a loss for New York’s public safety. State Senator Mario Mattera urges consideration of the victims’ feelings.
Business leaders and labor unions advocate for the legislation, stating that it would give New York an advantage over other states with low unemployment rates and citing similar legislation passed in other states like California.
Studies by the Brennan Center for Justice indicate that sealing records could help approximately 18,000 individuals reintegrate into society and potentially contribute to the state’s economy with earnings up to $7.1 billion annually.
While Hochul has advocated for a more extended waiting period before sealing records, this year’s momentum and broad support for the bill, particularly from sponsors such as State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, suggest a different outcome.