(The Center Square) – A bill that would allow certain misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies to qualify for expungement is on Gov. Brian Kemp's desk.
The bill was unanimously approved by the House and Senate on Wednesday.
The measure, Senate Bill 288, would restrict access to the criminal records of defendants who have not committed additional crimes in four years.
Along with violent crimes, sexual offenses are excluded from the qualified list. The change would apply to eligible felony offenses that have been pardoned or dismissed.
Law enforcement agencies and courts still would have access to the records.
Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, one of the bill's sponsors, said that the legislation would remove economic barriers for a portion of Georgians.
"This bill is intended to give people a second chance, have their records restricted and position them for reemployment, for housing, and for going to school," she said.
More than 4 million Georgia residents had a criminal record in 2016, according to the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO).
If the bill becomes law, Georgia will join 41 other states that have eased record sealing restrictions, Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, told the House on Wednesday.
According to the University of Michigan, a cleared record could increase the likelihood of employment by 11 percent and earnings by 22 percent within a person's first year of re-entry into the workforce.
Buzz Brockway, GCO's vice president of public policy, said in a statement the change in the expungement law is more crucial than ever as the state faces the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"For many Georgians, the economic shock caused by coronavirus has meant job loss and financial hardship," he said. "But think of the ... Georgians with a criminal record who are in the same situation. For them, the path forward is seemingly insurmountable."
Proponents of the bill also said it would decrease recidivism rates.
Further research by the University of Michigan found that less than 2 percent of people were convicted again within five years of having their records cleared.