By Blakely Gull
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — Legislators are forging new territory with newly proposed legislation that would allow administrative agencies to grant the expungement of criminal records and related investigative records.
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, presented a modified bill to the House Judiciary Committee in hopes of moving towards a consensus that would end a long-standing dispute between lawmakers and government agencies.
If passed, modified HB109 would put in place an expungement that prevents perspective employers from accessing criminal records from government agencies—removing public access to criminal records.
“These records can have very serious and limiting effects… particularly when applying for employment,” said Greene. “These records stand in their way.”
As of now, the general public has direct access to a public database that provides all administrative records detailing disciplinary action while public policy allows the expungement of criminal records which makes them not as easily accessible.
“Often times that can be the difference between getting a good job and not getting good job, said Greene. “Where a person has proven their good character for a period of time I think the same public policy should apply with administrative disciplinary action as it does with criminal.”
The bill would not require redacting or sealing of the original records as the term expunge would infer. The bill allows government agencies to still have access to the record, but the record would no longer be made public.
Since the bill is said to be the first of its kind in the country, the committee met it with much reservation.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, agreed with the majority of the committee saying the modifications are moving Legislators closer to a consensus yet there are still improvements to be made.
Christensen urged Greene to try and “strike a balance between hope and hopelessness… which is always a challenge”
The committee was concerned the bill would encourage rather than discourage criminals to recommit previous crimes.
Greene assured them the bill gives agencies discretion to deny and delay applications for expungement. He also emphasized that expungement of administrative records is only given to a single person two times.
“You get two bites at this apple. If your truly a bad character that is going to show,” said Greene.
Perhaps the biggest concerns from the committee came from Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George.
“I’m not necessarily opposed. But we are saying to the public in certain situations we will remove that information,” said Snow. “It’s a concern. It’s a weighty issue… I say we tread lightly and get it right.”
According to Snow, residents should have access to records in order to make better decisions concerning important decisions.
“There is a reason why not everyone in the state receives a license. When a person receives a seal of the state of Utah it is a privilege… that means something to me and to the public. It also means something when those are removed,” said Snow. “We want citizens of this state to know whether they should trust these individuals with decisions that affect their lives.”
Francine Giani, executive director for the Utah Department of Commerce, also spoke of her praises and concerns regarding the bill.
“Changes that have been made are an improvement. I understand a second chance means a second chance to get a license or practice a profession not a second chance to hide your past from the public and that’s what we think this bill does,” said Giani.
She also spoke of an early testimony given to the committee by Rep. Ivory’s wife Rebecca concerning child sexual abuse.
Ivory told the committee her abuser was her seventh grade choir teacher who, once fired after found out, received her teaching license back after just two years.
Giani said she didn’t know the details of the case but it struck her that now perpetrators can have their records expunged.
“We give second chances all the time all day long at the Department of Commerce. Our concern is continually transparency, which allows the public to come to our database and look up any person they want to do business with,” said Giani.
Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, said to the committee, “We as a society need to come back to giving second chances.”
Giving people a second chance is what Greene hopes this bill will accomplish and according to the committee, the bill is on its way to doing so.