(The Center Square) – A bill that would make reforms to North Carolina's expungement laws moved Tuesday to the North Carolina House floor.
Senate Bill 562, dubbed the Second Chance Act, would allow certain felonies and misdemeanors committed before Dec. 1, 2019, to be expunged from a juvenile's record. It also would make it easier for certain nonviolent crimes to be removed from an adult's record.
Members of the House Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to send the bill to the House floor.
Supporters of the bill said the measure will remove an economic obstacle for people who find it hard to find employment because of offenses they committed in the past.
North Carolina resident Lynn Burke told the committee Tuesday her criminal conviction 20 years ago has gotten in the way of restoring her life. Burke was sentenced to 10 years in prison for eight felony charges from writing bad checks in 1987, when she was 24 years old.
After being released early on parole, Burke obtained her bachelor's degree and then graduated from the North Carolina Central University School of Law. Despite passing the bar exam, Burke is unable to practice law in North Carolina because of her past convictions.
Burke said the Second Chance Act would change her outlook on life and give people like her another chance.
"If this goes through, my life will be changed," she said. "Many people like this will be able to have dreams again."
The bill passed the Senate in May 2019 but stalled in the House in August. It does not apply to violent or sexual crimes or those involving impaired driving.
If the measure becomes law, starting Dec. 1, people such as Burke will be able to seek the expungement of more than one misdemeanor conviction after seven years instead of waiting five years for each misdemeanor, or 10 years for one felony.
It also would remove a record of an offense once the case is dismissed (except for a plea deal), or the person is found not guilty, starting Dec. 1, 2021.
"Studies have shown that most folks go at least four years without recommitting and have a very low chance of recidivism," said Sen. Danny Earl Britt Jr., R-Columbus, one of the bill's sponsors. "This is a good deal that gets folks back into the job sector who otherwise have these collateral consequences following these convictions."
The General Assembly has passed several laws meant to ease record sealing restrictions, but criminal justice reform advocates argued they have made a minimal impact.
In fiscal year 2017 to 2018, about 10,500 North Carolinians were granted record expungements, according to the North Carolina Justice Center, while more than 2 million people in the state have criminal records.
A January poll conducted by Conservatives For Criminal Justice Reform found more than 80 percent of North Carolinians, across all party lines, support all of the provisions of the measure.
Committee Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, said the legislation would help the state address some of the systemic and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.