By Brigid Curtis Ayers
INDIANAPOLIS — Should people who are convicted of a crime be marked for life even if they have served their sentence and reformed their lives? State Rep. Jud McMillin, (R-Brookfield) author of a bill to address the problem, believes some individuals deserve a second chance at living a productive life. And Church officials agree.
McMillin’s bill, House Bill 1492, as proposed would allow expungement of some misdemeanor and nonviolent felony records after a 10 year period of no criminal activity.
The proposal passed the House 82-17. During a March 20, meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, panel members heard testimony, but held the bill over another week to consider additional amendments.
McMillin, the bill’s author said, “What the bill would allow is for certain felonies, excluding sexual offenses and felonies where people are harmed, to be expunged 10 years after the date of conviction. It does provide for prosecutors to reopen an expunged record for purposes of subsequent convictions.”
McMillin said the bill was “the final step” in recognizing that it might not be the best public policy to label people as felons for life, and not give them the opportunity to become productive members of society. “Especially when they have demonstrated that they have cleaned-up their act and are ready to get back to being tax paying members of society,” said McMillin.
State Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, said he worked for eight years with Rep. Bill Crawford to get a bill passed to seal the records of persons whom committed Class D felonies, or misdemeanor, nonsexual and nonviolent offenders, and who had no further convictions. Eight years after they had completed all their sentencing, their records could be sealed.
Turner said he’s had “countless individuals” contact him and Rep. Crawford to say “thank you” for giving them the opportunity to provide for their families. “These crimes should not be a life time sentence. We do have crimes that should be for life, but not these,” said Turner. “These individuals have made a determined effort to put what’s in the past, in the past, and provide for their families. I don’t think we can ask any more of them.”
State Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield, said, “Having had the opportunity to hire many, many people throughout my career. I’ve turned down incredibly good people because a prior record was not revealed until it was time to do the (permanent) hiring and background check.” No background check would be done for temporary workers.
Ubelhor, who had an accountant working for him as a temp for months and was ready to hire him. He couldn’t hire him. Ubelhor said, “In tears, the 32-year old man told me ‘Matt, I was 19-years-old and I drove the getaway car for one of my buddies who hit-up a 7-11 store.’ Ubelhor said the man did 18-months in jail, then got a degree from Purdue, is married with two kids. He worked for Ubelhor as an accountant for $15 an hour. “Best paying job he’d ever had, and he did a hell of job, performed flawlessly, but I had to tell him, I’m not hiring you because you are not good enough. He did the crime, did the time, and paid the dime, and now still can’t get past it,” said Ubelhor. “This bill is remarkable for these kinds of individuals.”
State Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, raised concerns with House colleagues during the floor debate saying his position on the bill has been “very clear and consistent. The bill falls on the side of the offender and not on the side of victims or potential victims.” Eberhart said he was not a callous person, that he hired a person who was a convicted felon, but did so with full disclosure, and was concerned that if criminal records were expunged businesses owners would not have that knowledge and should.
State Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, disagrees, saying that the bill does not prevent employers from calling the county jail finding out about arrest records, and employers do this all the time. “You want a jobs bill? This is a jobs bill,” said Mahan. “An engineer, 45-years-old told me as a young person he got an OWI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated). Less than five years later, while at Purdue, he got another one. That raises it to a Class D felony. He’s spent the rest of his life paying for that mistake. He can’t even chaperone at one of his kids’ field trips.” Another man told Mahan at age 24 he lifted a pack of smokes, a Class D felony. “He can’t even get a job at McDonalds,” said Mahan. “You want a jobs bill. This is a jobs bill.”
Glenn Tebbe, Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) executive director, who testified in support of the bill in the House and Senate said, “The persons addressed in this bill have repented, offered satisfaction for their crime and demonstrated good character and behavior. They deserve a second chance.”
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