The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 17 on a bill meant to address the stigma of criminal conviction.
LB114, sponsored by Omaha Sen. John McCollister, would allow individuals convicted of certain crimes to petition the court to have their record sealed, removing all records relevant to the crime from the public record and limiting dissemination of such records to criminal justice agencies.
McCollister said that sentencing, good time and parole reform are the true answers to solving Nebraska’s prison overcrowding.
“Under LB114 … once an individual completes his or her sentence and obeys the law long enough to demonstrate rehabilitation, the individual has rightfully earned relief from low-level offenses hanging over one’s head like a scarlet letter for the rest of his or her life,” he said.
Many offenses would be excluded from qualifying under the bill, including those that require registration as a sex offender or involve serious bodily injury or death.
Under the bill, a person convicted or adjudicated for an eligible offense could petition the court to have their record sealed if they have not been convicted or adjudicated for a subsequent misdemeanor or felony and has satisfied all court-ordered financial obligations.
The eligibility period for qualified offenses would be 10 years following conviction of a Class III or lower felony or a Class I or II misdemeanor, seven years following adjudication of a Class III or lower felony or a Class I or II misdemeanor or five years following conviction or adjudication for a Class III or lower misdemeanor or infraction.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, an individual convicted of an eligible misdemeanor offense would be eligible to have their criminal record sealed automatically if the offense was committed after Jan. 1, 2017, and if they have not been convicted or adjudicated for a subsequent offense and have paid all court-ordered financial obligations.
The eligibility period for a qualified misdemeanor offense would be 10 years after conviction of a Class I or II misdemeanor, seven years after adjudication for a Class I or II misdemeanor or five years following conviction or adjudication for a Class III or lower misdemeanor.
The state court administrator would be required to determine eligibility for such relief within 30 days following expiration of the eligibility period established under LB114.
Deanna Hobbs, a student attorney, spoke in support of the bill. Due to the stigma of having a criminal record, she said, individuals face significant challenges to finding employment, securing housing and obtaining an education.
“This bill would ensure that thousands of Nebraskans that have had past run-ins with the justice system have the opportunity to fully re-enter society and be an active member of their communities,” Hobbs said.
Also supporting the bill was Natalie Scarpa, an Omaha social worker. Reducing system-involved discrimination is good for everyone, she said, and the bill would impact thousands of Nebraskans.
“As a professional social worker — and person in recovery with previous [legal] system contact — I can tell you that people do change their lives,” Scarpa said. “They change their lives, every day and against all odds.”
Speaking in opposition to the bill was Mary Jacobson, on behalf of the Consumer Data Industry Association. She did not oppose the concept of sealing criminal records, she said, but asked that a uniform reporting system be added to protect the bill’s original spirit.
“We want individuals who are granted clean slate relief to fully realize the benefit of their modified criminal history record information,” Jacobson said. “Providing a centralized and uniform means of accessing clean slate orders is the best way to ensure our members have accurate and up-to-date information when generating consumer products.”
The committee took no immediate action on LB114.