LANSING, MI – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed a bill package that provides a framework for thousands of Michigan residents to seal prior criminal records from public view.
The “Clean Slate” legislation is designed to expand expungement options for people who have gone several years without committing another offense, including low-level marijuana offenses. The House bills passed the Michigan Legislature with wide bipartisan support in September.
House Bills 4980-4985 and 5120 all were sponsored by both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers. Whitmer thanked the “bipartisan leaders” who helped make the legislation possible.
“These bipartisan bills are a game changer for people who are seeking opportunities for employment, housing and more, and they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders,” she said in a release. “This is also an opportunity to grow our workforce and expand access to job training and education for so many people.”
Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, echoed Whitmer’s sentiment, saying the collaboration on both sides of the aisle will help limit the “cruel cycle of poverty and crime.”
Read more: What pending changes to expungement laws mean for setting aside criminal records in Michigan
Under previous law, Michigan residents with up to two misdemeanors or one felony conviction for certain crimes are eligible to ask a judge to clear their record if they haven’t committed other offenses for five years or more.
The changes made by the newly-approved bills include:
- The implementation of an automatic process for scrubbing certain misdemeanors after seven years and certain felonies – not including those involving assault – after 10 years.
- An increase in the number of felonies and misdemeanors eligible to be sealed from a person’s public record, as well as the types of offenses that can be removed.
- The establishment of a three-to-seven-year waiting period before someone is able to apply for expungement.
- The added ability to combine multiple felonies or misdemeanor offenses arising from the same transaction as a single felony or misdemeanor conviction, as long as the offenses happened within 24 hours of one another and are not crimes involving assault, possession or use of a dangerous weapon, or an offense that requires more than 10 years in prison.
- The expansion of expungement eligibility for lesser traffic offenses, not including operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
- The added ability for a person to request that a judge expunge one or more marijuana offenses if the violation occurred after Michigan legalized recreational use in December 2018.
It’s unclear exactly how many Michigan residents would be impacted by the new legislation, but experts estimate it could be in the hundreds of thousands.
In Detroit alone, Mayor Mike Duggan said the bills would help the city’s economic recovery through a new supply of workers.
“Thousands of Detroiters who want to work and be a part of Detroit’s comeback have been held back for too long because of mistakes they’ve made in their past,” he said. “Thanks to the Governor and our state legislators, more than 80,000 (additional) Detroiters now will be eligible to have those past mistakes removed from their record and a chance at a new start.”
Research conducted by the University of Michigan law school, recently published by the Harvard Law Review, found that people who receive expungements see a 23% increase in income within a year, according to Whitmer’s office.
One of the lingering areas of disagreement among lawmakers that hasn’t been resolved surrounds expungement of drunken driving offenses. Both Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel expressed concern for a lack of fairness in some instances.
One of the package’s lead sponsors, Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, said the bills are an initial step, and he didn’t make the drunk driving question a sticking point because he didn’t want to risk the “overwhelming support” the legislation accrued.
“Throughout the process… I got the feeling that we had bipartisan support for these bills, and agreements are always tentative by nature when you’re working 110 representatives and 38 senators,” he told MLive. “Throwing in something that I knew might blow up the entire agreement was something I think I was hesitant to do.”
Whitmer noted that she has prioritized expungement for marijuana convictions since taking office. The marijuana provisions in the package were a result of changing public views on cannabis, Filler said.
He also pointed to House bills 5137 and 5138, which propose easing punishments for opioid and fentanyl abuse, in line with a general change in approach across the political spectrum toward the “War on Drugs.”
“Criminal justice is an interesting part of the political world, where you have 106 Republican and Democratic representatives voting on criminal justice reform that might have not occurred 20 years ago,” he said. “We seem to have just changed the way we look at the justice system. Instead of the traditional talking points about being tough on crime or soft on crime, we’re just trying to make laws fairer for everybody.”
While both sides highlighted bipartisan support for the package, Whitmer’s comments came a day after she said Republican state leaders provide “comfort and support” to accused domestic terrorists arrested last week for plotting to storm the Capitol and kidnap her.
Related: Whitmer: Domestic terrorists find ‘comfort and support’ in Republican state leadership
Messages were left with both Whitmer’s office and Republican leadership requesting comment on this turn in rhetoric. While not addressing her comments directly, Filler noted that this collaborative work across the aisle has been in progress for years.
“I have so many great stories, like times I called the Lieutenant Governor (Garlin Gilchrist),” he said. “He tells me how the information (technology systems) work, and here’s how we’d need to (configure) it. He’s an IT guy, so we had a remarkable back and forth that existed between parties. It’s an example of how things can go in Lansing going forward.”
Leaders such as Gilchrist and Filler talked about how the passage of the package makes Michigan a national leader in expungement reform, joining the likes of Utah, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“This is the right thing to do on behalf of people everywhere who deserve another chance, and will help improve livelihoods,” Gilchrist said in the release. “There is more work to do, but Michigan has now established itself as a leader in removing barriers to economic opportunity for people who have made mistakes. I will continue to stand tall for Michiganders across the state who need someone in their corner.”
The website Michigan Legal Help offers an interactive guide to walk Michigan residents through the process of determining whether they’re eligible for getting their criminal records expunged.
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