Missouri lawmakers pass a bill aimed at sealing some criminals' records from the public. The bill is intended to give a second chance to criminals who deserve it. Qualifications would be based on how long ago the crime happened, and whether another crime has been committed.
32-year-old Michael Rice was convicted of a misdemeanor theft 15 years ago, and says the crime has stuck with him ever since.
"A lot of convenience stores won't hire me because of it. Grocery stores," says Rice.
Rice says trucking companies have been willing to hire him, and that points to an unfair irony.
"Hauled millions of dollars worth of merchandise all over the country. Been on military bases. But they won't hire me to hand people groceries," says Rice.
Missouri legislation aims at preventing some people from being branded as a criminal.
"I think this is a big deal," says Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson.
Dankelson says it's time for a change.
"We'd much rather have folks working than being in some sort of assistance program," says Dankelson.
Criminals with a felony or misdemeanors could have their convictions sealed from the public. It would mean potential employees with a criminal past could have a better shot at the job by saying they haven't been convicted of crimes.
"Because that record hasn't been wiped away, but for the outside world, it is considered expunged," says Dankelson.
There is fine print, though. Dangerous felonies, sex offenses, and other violent crimes would not be eligible, and this proposal only gives a second chance to felons, not a third.
"You can only do it one time for a felony offense. For a misdemeanor, you can do it up to twice," says Dankelson.
"The expungement is not automatic. One of the things that's required, is that you have to petition the court, the court then tells the prosecutor of this county that the petition has been filed. The prosecutor can object the expungement, and then there's a hearing in front of the judge who will determine whether you are entitled to it or not," says Dankelson.
Rice knows some business owners who may hire him to handle money may want to know if he has a criminal past. But he says the bottom line is...
"Everybody deserves a second chance," says Rice.
"You're always trying to strike that balance of protecting public safety and protecting the interest of our businesses and our schools, but also allowing folks the ability to have a second chance," says Dankelson.
Dankelson says the scales of justice would be balanced under this proposal.
Rice says he was offered a chance to seal his previous conviction, but he would have to pay 25-hundred dollars in court fees. This bill would not only decrease that fee to $250, but judges could waive fees for those who can't afford it.
If the bill is signed into law by Governor Nixon, it goes into effect in 2018.
For more information on the bill, click here.
The Workforce Innovation Board of Southwest Missouri has provided this blog that details research of success with employing ex-offenders.
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