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Texas legislation could seal records of first time offenders

A bill which has passed the Texas Senate would give some people with a criminal record a chance to have their record sealed.

Senate Bill 1902, introduced by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), would expand those eligible to have their record sealed and would include one-time offenders who complete their jail or probation term and don’t commit a violent or sexual crime.

This would include a number of offenses, including marijuana possession, but those who have been found guilty more than once would not be eligible.

Many people with criminal records, especially those who have committed non-violent drug offenses, are often harmed for life while searching for employment opportunities and housing. Roughly 60,000 Texans are arrested for marijuana possession each year.

“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, speaking on the Senate floor. “It shouldn’t be something that haunts me for the rest of my life.”

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

Records will not be fully sealed however, as they will still be available to certain law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, as well as financial, healthcare, and educational agencies according to Texas Tribune.

State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who was the only member of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to vote against the bill, says that the legislation presents a risk to employers who work with children and handle money.

“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. She suggested a review process would be more appropriate than automatically sealing records. “This bill goes too far and there will be policy implications and unintended consequences,” Huffman warned.

Those eligible would not automatically have their records sealed however. They would still need to legally file to have the process completed, which would likely result in the need to hire a lawyer.

The bill passed with a vote of 25 to 6 and now heads to the Texas House of Representatives. If the House passes it, the bill would then move on to Gov. Greg Abbott, who could either sign the legislation, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. Should the House support the bill with a two-thirds majority of its 150 members, any veto made by Gov. Abbott would be overridden.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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