March 5, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 10

News

Proposal to create certificate for ex-offenders fails; proponents plan to bring it back in 2015

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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A proposed law aimed at helping people with criminal records move on with their lives stalled in committee and will not pass in the Washington State Legislature this year.

The proposed law would have created a Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity that people with criminal records could obtain from a judge to show that they’ve done their time and are unlikely to offend again.

The proposal would have allowed people with felony or misdemeanor records to apply for state licenses currently unavailable to anyone with a criminal history. The idea was that people could also use the document to bolster applications for housing or employment.

Merf Ehman, a lawyer for Columbia Legal Services, said the certificate was too big of a change to push through this session. “It affects so many different state agencies,” she said.

Proponents agreed to take time this summer to discuss and possibly modify the legislation to be considered in the 2015 session.

Such a law could have broad implications. Thousands of laws restrict the rights of people with criminal records. According to the American Bar Association, there are 40,000 state and federal statutes that impose consequences on those who have been convicted of a crime.

State laws frequently bar people with criminal records from applying for employment licenses for hundreds of jobs, including alcohol server, barber, cosmetologist, commercial fisher, health care worker and drug counselor. Many licenses require applicants to complete training and education before applying.

Under the proposed legislation, applicants for Certificate of Restoration would be required to wait one to three years after their sentence or jail time, depending on whether they have a misdemeanor or felony. They would have to be free of any new charges or convictions.

They would also be required to pay any court fines or restitution or have a payment plan and have made nine payments over the prior 12 months or provide a good reason for the missed payments.

People who have been convicted of a sex offense would not be eligible.

The court can also consider letters and support from other people, including clergy, drug counselors, mental health providers and probation officers. Applicants can present school transcripts, training certificates and diplomas to support their case.

Ten other states have passed similar laws, including New York, which has had a certificate program in place for 40 years.

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