If you commit a one-off crime but then stay out of trouble, you can still be dogged by your criminal record which can make it harder for you to get a job and get back on your feet again.
That could change for some one-time offenders who stay out of further trouble if a bill becomes a law in Texas that would mean their conviction would automatically be sealed and unsearchable by the general public.
Senate Bill 1902 by state Sen. Charles Perry, would expand the number of people who are eligible for nondisclosure “to include one-time offenders who complete their jail or probation term and don’t commit another violent or sexual crime,” reported the Texas Tribune.
The bill has cleared the Texas Senate. It has been dubbed the “second chance” bill and would allow people who have one-off criminal convictions to put their pasts behind them without having to disclose their convictions, the Tribune reported.
However, the bill has provoked concerns from some lawmakers who fear it might withhold important information from the public and stop employers from screening potential candidates.
The bill has been supported by some prominent conservatives and groups such as Empower Texans.
“I look at it as if I did something I wasn’t supposed to, the criminal justice system has persecuted me … and that should be enough,” said Perry from the Senate floor. “It shouldn’t be something that haunts me for the rest of my life.”
Under the bill an offender could choose if they wanted to disclose their criminal record to landlords or employers, although the record would remain available to certain law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, as well as health, financial and educational agencies.
At present an order for nondisclosure can only be sought by people whose felony or misdemeanor charges are dismissed after they successfully completed deferred adjudication. Perry said that excludes a sizeable group of offenders who have been convicted and either served jail time or completed community service, from making the same request.
At present a person who is arrested in Texas has a right to have his or her criminal records expunged if they are acquitted or convicted and later pardoned. Other circumstances are set out in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, was the only member of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice to vote against the bill. She said the legislation presents a risk to employers who are hiring people to work with children or handle money in a private business.
“In your bill, [employers] could pay to have criminal history check run and would believe they were hiring someone who had a clean record, and in fact they are someone who has just been released from jail for stealing a lot of money,” Huffman said.