RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – More than a year after it passed the state Senate, a criminal justice reform bill that would impact people convicted of non-violent crimes could get a vote in the House this week.
The Second Chance Act would set up for automatic expunctions for people who are found not guilty or have charges against them dismissed. It also would allow people to petition for the expunction of nonviolent misdemeanor and felony charges after a period of good behavior.
People would “be permitted to petition the court for multiple expunctions after a seven year waiting period as long as it has been at least 10 years since their last felony conviction or at least five years since their last misdemeanor conviction,” the Senate’s bill sponsors explained in a news release.
Lynn Burke is an attorney who was released from prison in 1990 after stealing and writing bad checks. Since her release, she went to law school and obtained a license to practice in Washington, D.C., which allows her to practice immigration law in North Carolina. She’s been unable to obtain a North Carolina law license.
“There’s gonna be so many people that are gonna be able to have hope that their lives are gonna change,” she said Tuesday. “I won’t have to talk about it anymore. I won’t have to pretend that I’m like everybody else.”
Burke spoke to members of the House Rules Committee Tuesday, urging them to approve the bill.
It has broad bipartisan support, including from advocacy groups on the left and the right as well as from the Administrative Office of the Courts, which would be tasked with implementing some of the reforms.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Darren Jackson and Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham/Durham) had urged the Rules Committee to take up the bill at a meeting that had originally been scheduled for Monday but was moved to Tuesday.
“The Second Chance Act is an important piece of legislation to improve North Carolina’s expunction laws. Its passage would be but one small step to address racism, but we need to start somewhere, and the Second Chance Act is a good place to start. It passed the Senate on a unanimous vote but has languished in the House for 13 months,” they wrote in an email Monday.
Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said several months ago he supported the legislation and expected to bring it up during this spring’s legislative session.
“It’s always been a matter of timing when we could get to it. I think the Second Chance Act is a great piece of legislation,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a way of just making sure that when it comes to the criminal justice process that someone is not just being dogged for the rest of their life for one indiscretion.”
The House could vote on the bill Wednesday.