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Sen. Jamie Raskin, chief sponsor of shielding legislation, explained how it would work before the Senate gave preliminary approval.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, chief sponsor of shielding legislation, explained how it would work before the Senate gave preliminary approval. (Amy Davis, 2011)

The Senate moved Wednesday to give Marylanders convicted of some minor offenses an opportunity to have their criminal record shielded from public view.

Democrats and previously skeptical Republicans came together to give preliminary approval to the "second chance" bill, saying those who've paid their dues for certain nonviolent misemeanors deserve an opportunity to withhold that information when applying for jobs. The measure is due for a final vote Friday.

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Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat and the bill's chief sponsor, said it lets those convicted once for offenses such as disorderly conduct, trespassing and prostitution apply to shield the offense from public examination.

Raskin said more than 200,000 Marylanders are estimated to be have eligible misdemeanor offenses on their records, some of them a decade or more past.

"And they're begging us for a second chance," he said, noting that more than 30 other states have similar provisions to shield minor offenses.

To win over doubtful lawmakers, Raskin said the number of shieldable offenses has been whittled down to a dozen. And he pointed out that those seeking to have a conviction hidden from potential future employers would have to "stay clean" three years afterward before applying to a court.

Prosecutors and victims would be notified and given a chance to object, the sponsor explained, and employers required to check for all criminal offenses would be allowed to see even the shielded ones.

Though some still had questions about how shielding would work, GOP lawmakers expressed a willingness to go along.

"I feel for people when they were young and made a mistake," said Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican from Baltimore County.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called it "a compromise," saying Republicans are "reluctantly buying in," as are some Democrats worried the shielding doesn't go far enough.

"It's a step forward," he concluded.

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