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February 8, 2013

Bill to expunge some crimes passes House, heads to Senate

INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation that would give judges much more discretion to erase the criminal records of people who, after serving their sentences, could show they’ve redeemed themselves is headed to the state Senate.

The House voted 82 to 17 to approve a bill that would allow for some arrests and convictions to be expunged, after a waiting period.

Supporters of the bill say it’s aimed at helping ex-offenders with long-ago, nonviolent arrests and convictions clear their records to make it easier for them to find work and to access other opportunities often denied to ex-offenders.

“People are starting to realize that we’ve been labeling some people as bad guys when they’re just people who’ve made bad decisions and made mistakes,” said Republican state Rep. Jud McMillin, a former deputy prosecutor from Brookville and co-author of the bill.

Indiana now has a criminal records “sealing” law that allows people with old low-level arrests or convictions to get a court order to shield that record from public view. But it applies only to certain misdemeanors and class-D felonies.

The expungement bill would allow judges to expunge some class-B and class-C felonies from the records. Arrest and conviction records eligible to be sealed under current law would also be eligible to be expunged.

There are limits: There is a waiting period of at least five years after a sentence is completed; violent crimes and sex crimes couldn’t be expunged; and the persons seeking expungements would have to show they have reformed.

Similar legislation failed to make it through several past sessions, but it’s picking up a broad base of support.

In the House, two conservative Republicans from rural areas, McMillin and state Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero, carried the bill with two Democrats from Indianapolis: state Rep. Greg Porter and state Rep. Vanessa Summers.

In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by two powerful conservative Republicans, Senate Judiciary Chairman Brent Steele and Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Chairman Mike Young, along with two Democrats, Sen. Earline Rogers of Gary and Sen. Greg Taylor of Indianapolis.

“These are people who typically have diametrically opposed views,” McMillin said. “What it means is that we have people from all aspects looking this thing favorably and who are ready to move on it.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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