Originally Published: The Salt Lake Tribune
Written by: Eric Hutchins

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently signed into law Utah’s Clean Slate billHouse Bill 431, legislation that I filed to help thousands of eligible Utahans expunge old criminal records. The bill, which received tremendous support from the governor and the Legislature, will give people who have paid their debt to society the chance they’ve earned to leave their past in the past.

The Clean Slate Law gives our citizens a means of efficiently expunging records of old convictions or arrests for low-level, non-violent crimes, without forcing individuals to jump through a series of expensive and cumbersome bureaucratic hoops. With this legal relief, individuals can legally answer “no” when potential employers or landlords ask if they’ve been arrested for, or convicted of, offenses that have been expunged from their records.

An old criminal record is an anchor around the necks of people whose crimes are long behind them, seriously damaging their employment and housing opportunities. Just a few decades ago, a criminal record was a piece of paper in a dusty drawer at the courthouse. Now, a record is a digital scarlet letter that follows an individual throughout their public and private life, denying opportunities and stunting personal and professional growth.

We’ve begun a process of identifying low-level, non-violent criminal records that will be automatically expunged, benefitting tens of thousands of individuals who are ready to move toward the jobs, the promotions, and the better lives that Utah is built on. (More serious criminal records must still go through a petition-based expungement process.)

The law goes into effect in May of 2020, giving state agencies time to develop digital processes to identify and expunge eligible records. Once that’s done, a backlog of hundreds of thousands of individual records – some decades old – will be expunged.

But there’s more work to do.

For that relief to be meaningful for Utahns, two things must still happen. First, people have to know that their record has been expunged. Second, expunged records have to be deleted from the databases of private companies that conduct background checks for employers and others.

I am committed to making sure that both of these things happen. To meet the first goal, I am supporting a public awareness campaign through traditional and social media, direct service providers and treatment facilities, and large employers to advise members of the public to check whether their records are expunged. I hope to support creation of a free process for record-holders to access documentation showing their records have been expunged.

To meet the second goal, I intend to collaborate with the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts to ensure that when criminal record data is shared with private background checking companies, it includes updates on records that need to be deleted. I also intend to promote accountability and enforcement among private background checking companies, which should be equal partners in the work of ensuring their products are up-to-date.

If we accomplish these goals, Utah will be among the first states in the nation to move forward with this innovative solution that eliminates the barriers old, minor criminal records pose for individuals looking to move on with their lives.

Utahans want to work; Utah businesses want to hire them. By making government more efficient and cutting bureaucratic red tape, we’re taking a conservative approach to increase workforce participation. We’re also doing the right thing for people who have worked to get their lives back on track, and giving our citizens a real chance to thrive.