This legislative session, Texan lawmakers have been working to provide ways to ease the strain on people who have committed non-violent, low-level offenses as they integrate back into society. Those who have been arrested for minor offenses can often face major repercussions such as the inability to be hired for work, get housing or obtain student loans. The impact is enormous and extends to affect whole families and the community in general. Without the ability to adequately provide for the family, poverty and crime will both increase which ultimately affects everyone. For this reason, lawmakers have been working hard to reduce these kinds of consequences on society and assist those who deserve a second chance to receive one.
Details of the “Second Chance” Bill
One of the bills put forward this session involves sealing the criminal records of offenders so that they don’t interfere with people’s ability to get work and housing in the future. It is being called the “Second Chance” bill and, for those who have been arrested for having small amounts of marijuana or other non-violent misdemeanors, the bill will give people a chance to move forward with their lives without restraint. The bill already passed the House and just passed the Senate with a few amendments. The amendments ensure that those who have committed sexual or violent crimes are not eligible to have their records sealed. If the House approves these amendments, which they are likely to, the bill will be passed along to Gov. Greg Abbott to veto or sign into law.
Supporters of the bill are confident the governor will sign the legislation. The bill has been supported by a wide range of groups from liberal justice advocates to more conservative organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Both the left and right wing parties came together in unison to promote the bill, showing the issue to be a concern for both liberals and conservatives who recognize the impact these kinds of minor charges are having on individuals and the community and the need to address this immediately.
Stipulations of the Bill
Offenders would need to petition to have their records sealed but would only be able to do it after waiting 5 years or completing a 6 month interlock ingestion program. All court fines would also need to be paid in full. While the records will be sealed from employers and public viewing, they will still be visible to law enforcement agencies and some other relevant parties such as health care and finance agencies. This will allow offenders to move forward with their lives but still have the full information available to relevant government officials.
In particular for those convicted of possessing small quantities of marijuana who have had to face severe personal consequences, the bill will at least reduce the damage that such a charge can create. With the plant legal for personal use for 20 percent of the country and medical marijuana legal in 29 states, it is somewhat unfair to wreak such havoc on a person’s life for committing a non-violent act that is legal on some level in most places.