(AP) – An estimated 300,000 people in Connecticut with misdemeanor and low-level felony records could ultimately have those convictions automatically erased under legislation that cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, May 27. The bill passed 91-56 and now heads to Democratic Governor Ned Lamont’s desk.
The bill’s passage followed an emotional day-long debate where opponents spoke about crime victims who are still suffering from what happened to them and won’t have a say in whether a perpetrator’s crime is expunged. Yet proponents recalled stories of friends, loved ones and associates who have struggled with the “scarlet letter” of having a criminal record.
“We will help over 300,000 of our residents find more stable housing, obtain higher income and get better access to education and unlock opportunities which they previously did not have,” said state Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chair of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.
While he urged his colleagues to vote for the bill, Stafstrom acknowledged he wished it went further. The bill was pared back during negotiations and now no longer applies to some more serious felonies. But critics of the bill said it goes too far.
“There are many violent crimes that are being erased in this legislation,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, the committee’s ranking Republican. He ticked off a list of crimes, ranging from interfering with a police officer to carjacking.
In a press release, state Sen. Henri Martin (R-Bristol) stated: “This so-called ‘Fix’ took place because the Senate Democratic-majority chose not to heed the warnings laid out by Senate Republicans via a series of amendments to the originally discussed bill last week. It took the House Democrats’ hesitation to take up the bill to signify that this measure goes too far. So, while it took an unorthodox method to bring this policy to at least an improved place, I suppose the end justifies the means. Perhaps this will encourage Senate Democrats to give more consideration to alternative points of view in future discussions.”
Speaking to the judiciary committee, state Rep. William A. Petit Jr. (R-22) said, “I'm concerned that the committee's cherry-picking offenses ... when it's alright to walk over the rights, feelings and mental health of victims. 'It's okay, you only committed this crime’; though there's a victim who is impacted. This one it's okay to walk on their rights and walk on what they've suffered and walk on how this has impacted them. This one, it's not okay to do that. So the cherry-picking, I think, is going on with just the creation of a bill that doesn't put victims' rights at the forefront. And puts the people who committed the crime at the forefront.
“And I am very disappointed that this legislature would move forward with legislation such as this that really, I think, tramples and makes a mockery of victims' rights in the state."
If Lamont signs the bill into law, the changes would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
Lamont has voiced some concern about the legislation and what crimes would be expunged, but said Thursday, May 27 he wanted to review the changes made to the bill, reiterating that he agrees with the bill’s intent to give people another chance.