AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill giving some people with a single and minor criminal conviction on their records a second chance passed the Maine House of Representatives by a 123-18 vote Tuesday.
But the bill, LD 549, which first intended to expunge from a person’s criminal record any of a host of non-violent and non-sexual misdemeanor crimes was whittled down to allowing only a one-time shoplifting conviction to be sealed from public view.
Those who advocated for the bill said it was meant to help people who were unable to get a job, go to college or join the military because of a single non-violent conviction.
But lawmakers amended the bill so that only those who have been convicted of a Class E theft charge — shoplifting — would be allowed to ask to have their conviction sealed from public view.
State Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, said lawmakers opposed broadening the class and types of crimes that could be expunged from a record because many misdemeanor crimes are considered gateway offenses.
Crockett said the bill was intended to help those who had made a single criminal mistake in their youth from having to pay for it for the rest of their lives.
Lawmakers limited the conviction to shoplifting because they wanted to make sure they had a process that worked without flaws before possibly expanding it to other crimes in the future.
“We proceeded with the utmost caution,” said Crockett, who serves on the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers steered away from allowing those with misdemeanor sex, cruelty to animals or other violent crimes, from being able to seal their records, Crockett said.
He said many of those crimes are seen as possible indicators a person will re-offend or re-offend in a more serious way in the future.
The bill was initially intended to help people who were seeking employment but were denied jobs because of a single and decades-old conviction. During testimony on the bill in public hearings, the committee heard from those hoping to work in a variety of fields that required a criminal background check for employment, including schools, nursing homes and other medical professions.
“We wanted to make sure the errors of someone’s youth didn’t ruin the rest of their life,” Crockett said. “In this day and age with the Internet, a single incident can trail you for a lifetime.”
Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, the House co-chairman on the Judiciary Committee, agreed the measure was, “a little bit of experiment” and “very, very limited.”
The only other way for an individual to have his or her record sealed from public review or expunged is to take their case before the governor’s clemency board to seek a gubernatorial pardon.
“We’ve hedged it around with enough precautions, so that the real effect of this is to try to allow people to not be unable to get jobs, not be unable to get positions because of one mistake in their youth,” Priest said. “We didn’t want to go too far . . . somebody who has committed a serious crime ought to live with that crime.”
The bill still faces another vote in both the Senate and the House before going to Gov. Paul LePage for consideration.