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New law makes it easier for judges to seal records for reformed offenders

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans who have turned their lives around after being convicted of crimes long ago could get a new lease on life.

A bill Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law Wednesday gives judges more options to permanently seal records of reformed offenders, a process known as “expungement.”

The new law is meant to help people with criminal backgrounds to have an easier time finding homes and housing.

After signing the bill, Dayton said that people deserve a second chance.

“People can’t turn their lives around and become law-abiding citizens if they have no hope of finding a decent job or a place to live,” Dayton said. “This law provides a chance for them to put their pasts behind them and live better lives.”

The bill outlines that if a person successfully completes a diversion program and is not charged with a new crime for at least two years, he or she could be eligible for expungement. The person must show that his or her record is standing in the way of finding a job or housing.

“We know these laws have been unclear for a number of years now,” House bill sponsor Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, told the House Ways and Means Committee on March 26. “With some recent state Supreme Court decisions, it became even more unclear, and the Supreme Court basically kicked it back to the Legislature and said we need to do something to address the expungement issue.”

Melin said the bill should allow some people with criminal backgrounds to find it possible to receive educational opportunities such as advanced degrees.

Senate bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said that nearly one in five Minnesotans has a criminal record and that increasing use of online record checks by employers and landlords is making things difficult for some people.

“Unfortunately, online records are often inaccurate, incomplete or misinterpreted,” Champion said.

Mike Cook of Session Daily, a nonpartisan publication in the Minnesota House Public Information Office, contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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