(The Center Square) – A bill that would give some Georgians with criminal records a second chance passed the Senate on Thursday.
Senate Bill 288 would allow certain convictions in Georgia to be restricted and sealed.
The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, said the bill would rehabilitate a portion of the population and give them more opportunities to find work and housing.
“Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of open jobs in Georgia, all while the unemployment rate for individuals with a record is about 15 percent,” she said. “Having a job is the No. 1 way of allowing people to take care of their families and No. 1 way of preventing recidivism.”
Under current law, vacated and dismissed cases and a few misdemeanor charges can be eligible for restricted access.
SB 288 would allow a former offender who has served his or her full sentence and remained free of criminal activity for four years to petition the courts to seal and expunge their records. Serious violent, sexual crimes and repeat offenders are excluded. Forty other states have passed similar laws.
Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told lawmakers in January the state’s job growth has outpaced its workforce.
There are about 4.6 million jobs in Georgia, according to January labor department reports. However, the labor force, which consists of people of working age, has a population of 5.1 million.
A criminal history more than often works as a barrier to employment. More than 40 percent of Georgians have a criminal record, according to the National Institute of Justice Journal. About 10 percent of those records are for misdemeanor convictions.
The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on Thursday, 49-0, and heads to the House for review.
The legislation also received support from the Georgia Justice Project, the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Georgia Center for Opportunity, the Georgia Interfaith Public Policy Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“We also believe very firmly that if people have already served their time for what they've done ... it’s our moral obligation to believe and forgive them,” Leslie Anderson of the Jewish Community Relations Council told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.