‘A game-changer’: Whitmer signs bills wiping some criminal records clean

    State Rep. Graham Filler at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed into law a package of bipartisan expungement bills that reforms how Michigan residents can have portions of their criminal records wiped clean.

    The seven-bill, bipartisan package, dubbed the “Clean Slate” plan, gives thousands of residents options to clear their records of old criminal convictions. Advocates say that erasing convictions will allow residents with previous criminal histories to gain better access to housing and jobs.

    The package passed with wide margins in the state Legislature. 

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Gov. Whitmer office photo

    “These bipartisan bills are going to be a game-changer,” Whitmer said during a Monday press conference in Detroit. “They will ensure a clean slate, for hundreds of thousands of people, and they will help us grow our workforce and expand access to education and skills training.”

    Research shows that people who receive expungement see a 23% increase in their income within a year, according to Whitmer, who said that extra money can go for helping people with expunged records afford a higher cost of living.

    The governor was joined in Detroit by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. 

    Bill sponsors state Reps. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) and Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) also attended, as did John Cooper, the executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, a group that works to advance policies that “end Michigan’s over-use of incarceration.”

    “Without a doubt, this is the right thing to do on behalf of people everywhere who deserve a clean slate,” Gilchrist said. He co-chairs the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which has made major recommendations to reform sects of Michigan’s criminal justice system. 

    People of color are overrepresented in the state’s jail and prison populations and those disparities continue to impact people of color everywhere, Gilchrist said.

    Bills wiping some criminal records head to gov’s desk

    “While we can’t cure these systemic problems overnight, this legislation is one step in the direction that we are choosing to address head on,” Gilchrist said. 

    Nessel, Michigan’s top law enforcement official, said the expungement process in Michigan has been “in need of very serious reform.” A web page with videos explaining how to begin the expungement process will be added to the Michigan attorney general’s website, she said.

    House Bills 4980 to 4985 and 5120 were approved late last month by the state Legislature, sending the bills to Whitmer’s desk.

    Here is what the package does:

    • HB 4980 allows for certain convictions to be set aside after a period of 10 years, under certain circumstances.
    • HB 4981 lays out felonies and convictions which are not eligible for expungement, such as crimes that warranted a life in prison sentence, repeated domestic violence, child abuse, a majority of criminal sexual conduct cases and driving while drunk or high.
    • HB 4982 deals with marijuana-related offenses and amends the process of expunging them.
    • HB 4983 amends the time period a person must wait to ask for their conviction to be expunged. 
    • HB 4984 increases the number of misdemeanors and felonies that may be expunged.
    • HB 4985 for certain circumstances allows expungement of multiple felonies in the same criminal transaction.
    • HB 5120 allows individuals who disagree with a court’s decision to deny marijuana expungement to appeal or ask for a rehearing. 

    Filler chairs the state House Judiciary Committee which heard the bills. 

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    “There’s nothing in conservative or liberal orthodoxy that says you must have a crime on your record the rest of your life,” Filler said. 

    LaGrand’s bill, HB 4984, expands the number of offenses eligible to be set aside from the current limit of one felony and two misdemeanors to two felonies or up to four misdemeanors, and “more if none of the convictions are assaultive.” 

    Gay-Dagnogo sponsored HB 4985, which lets several convictions for certain offenses that occurred during “one bad night” to become eligible for expungement as a single offense.

    “This package has opened up a gateway of opportunity and what I call my fresh start,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “I can’t tell you how much this means to people who have not been able to work a meaningful job.”

    Cooper, whose organization advocated for the Legislature to pass the “Clean Slate” bills, said the package will promote public safety in Michigan.

    “This package will increase economic productivity, increase our tax base, expand our workforce, increase incomes for hundreds of thousands of people and their families and allow hundreds thousands of people to fully participate in our economy and our communities,” Cooper said.