Bill would 'shield' misdemeanor convictions from public

Members of the public and most employers would be unable to look up the records of some people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses under a proposal before the state legislature.

The recommendation, under which people could ask the state to shield such information from the public eye after they complete their sentences, was a key recommendation of a task force that examined how best to integrate ex-offenders back into society. But it has faced a tough fight; a similar proposal failed last year amid arguments that citizens are entitled to information about the actions of the legal system.

Twin bills in the state House and Senate would shield the records three years after the person's sentence is complete. There was a hearing in the state Senate on the bill Thursday.

Police, prosecutors, the person's attorney and certain employers that require more rigorous background checks for applications, including some federal agencies, would still be able to view the convictions.

State Sen. Verna L. Jones-Rodwell was a member on the re-entry task force and is a sponsor of the bill. The Baltimore Democrat said she has met individuals who have had trouble getting a job after spending time in prison.

"They were disqualified before they even had an opportunity to prove themselves, to get in the door," she said.

Under the bill, people who want their records shielded would have to file a formal request. Under current law, some minor charges can be expunged, or wiped from the record, but only if the person has not been convicted of the crime. The proposal does not specify which misdemeanors it would cover.

Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, opposed the proposal last year and said he planned to do so again. He said he has heard from groups, including people who advocate for foster children, who are concerned that the bill could limit their access to information they need to make decisions.

"Before they say yes to these volunteers who are doing work with very troubled kids, they think they have a right to know if somebody has a background," Brochin said. "I think you have a right to know in areas like that, and there's no way to avoid that if this law passes."

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