Blunt Rochester, Reschenthaler Introduce Bipartisan Federal Second Chance Legislation

The Clean Slate Act gives re-entering citizens a second chance at earning a job, an education, or home.

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Washington, April 23, 2019 | Kyle Morse (202-695-0494) | comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA-14) introduced H.R. 2348, the Clean Slate Act. The bipartisan bill would automatically seal an individual’s federal criminal record if they have been convicted of simple possession or any federal nonviolent offense involving marijuana, and it would create a groundbreaking new procedure that allows individuals to petition the United States Courts to seal records for nonviolent offenses that are not automatically sealed.   

“If our goal is to reduce recidivism and improve the lives of millions of Americans, we cannot allow hardworking citizens who served their time to be defined by their worst mistakes in life. With an inerasable criminal record, they are locked out of the American Dream. It becomes harder to get a good-paying job, pursue education or training, and own a home. This creates a system that leaves many hopeless and trapped in a cycle of poverty, and it is time we broke that cycle” said Congresswoman Blunt Rochester. “The Clean Slate Act would ensure that people who pay their debt to society and stay on the straight and narrow can earn a second shot at a better life for themselves and their family. If enacted, this legislation would make meaningful strides in filling the 7.1 million unfilled jobs in our country and improve the everyday lives of 100 million Americans who have past records. I am honored to introduce this legislation alongside Congressman Reschenthaler, and I look forward to working with him to pass the Clean Slate Act and galvanize states across the country to take up similar criminal justice reform efforts.”

“In Pennsylvania alone, approximately three million individuals, or over a third of working age citizens, have criminal records. Although many of these are the result of low-level, nonviolent offenses, criminal records can present a significant obstacle to employment, housing, and education,” said Congressman Reschenthaler, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “I look forward to working alongside Representative Blunt Rochester to ensure that those in our country who made mistakes in the past but have rehabilitated themselves and paid their debts to society, receive a clean slate and an opportunity to fully participate and contribute to our country’s economy.”

Following decades of overcriminalization, as many as 1 in 3 Americans now have some type of criminal record. In today’s digital era, any criminal record—even an old marijuana conviction—can stand in the way of jobs, housing, education, and more for years. As our nation reckons with the toll that mass incarceration and the war on drugs have taken on communities across the country—particularly low-income communities and communities of color—our policymakers must not only prioritize sentencing reforms but also policies to ensure that families and communities ravaged by the war on drugs can move on with their lives and have a fair shot at a better life,” said Rebecca Vallas, Vice President, Poverty Program at the Center for American Progress. By automatically sealing marijuana records and other nonviolent federal drug offenses—and for the first time, creating a path to clearing other federal records by petition—the Clean Slate Act would help people get back to work, lift families out of poverty, and interrupt the cycle of economic instability and recidivism trapping countless individuals and families in the justice system today.”

“As bipartisan Clean Slate reforms gain momentum in state legislatures across the country, I’m thrilled to see Congress doing its part to enable people with federal records to move on with their lives as well. The Center for American Progress applauds Rep. Blunt Rochester and Rep. Reschenthaler for their leadership in introducing the bipartisan Clean Slate Act. As more and more states adopt smart on crime reforms to their justice systems, lawmakers at all levels of government must ensure that a criminal record is no longer a life sentence to poverty,” added Vallas.

"We are proud of the role we played to get the First Step Act across the finish line, but there is so much work left to be done to give individuals second chances to live life as productive, taxpaying citizens,” said Jason Pye, Vice President of Legislative Affairs at FreedomWorks. “The Clean Slate Act offers a streamlined path forward for certain individuals who have come into contact with the criminal justice system to have their records sealed so that they may gain employment, secure a place to live, or pursue educational opportunities. These are simple necessities of life that one mistake may impede if we do not provide reasonable chances for a clean slate. FreedomWorks is proud to partner with Rep. Blunt Rochester, Rep. Reschenthaler, the Center for American Progress, and the American Conservative Union Foundation on the Clean Slate Act. We urge members, Democrat and Republican alike, to cosponsor this bill.”

According to estimates from the Center for American Progress, roughly 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges use background check systems, which can result in a minor record or arrest leading to lifelong societal barriers. By automatically sealing the records of nonviolent, marijuana offenders and creating a system for others who have paid their debt to society to have their records sealed, this bill will boost the U.S. economy by as much as $87 billion per year, create a second chance for re-entering citizens, and reverse the long-term societal barriers and consequences created by U.S. drug enforcement policy.

Specifically, the Clean Slate Act would:

  • Automatically seals an individual’s federal criminal record if they have been convicted of simple possession or any federal nonviolent offense involving marijuana.
  • Creates a new procedure that allows individuals to petition the United States Courts to seal records for nonviolent offenses that are not automatically sealed.   
  • Requires, within 180 days, automatic sealing of arrest records and other related records for individuals that have been acquitted, exonerated, or never had charges filed against them.
  • Creates a two-year window for individuals to re-petition the court if their initial request was denied.
  • Authorizes district courts to appoint a public defender to help indigent petitioners file and successfully seal their records.
  • Protects employers from liability for any claim arising out of the misconduct of an employee if the misconduct relates to a sealed criminal record.

For the full legislative text, click here, and for a fact sheet, click here. The bill is endorsed by the Center for American Progress, FreedomWorks, and Community Legal Services.

Partner organizations supporting state clean state initiatives:

  • Alliance for Safety and Justice
  • The American Conservative Union Foundation
  • South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center
  • Brennan Center for Justice
  • Californians for Safety and Justice
  • Colorado Center on Law and Policy
  • Center for American Progress
  • Center for Employment Opportunities
  • Community Legal Services
  • Code for America
  • Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
  • Economic Policy Institute
  • Faith and Freedom Coalition
  • Fair and Just Prosecution
  • Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families Movement
  • Freedom Partners
  • FreedomWorks
  • FWD.us
  • Generation Progress
  • Justice Action Network
  • Just Leadership USA
  • Laura and John Arnold Foundation
  • National Employment Law Project
  • R Street
  • Right on Crime
  • Safe and Just Michigan
  • The Seminar Network
  • Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation

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