Weekly Legislative Update: March 30, 2015

We are in the final stretch. With only two legislative days left in Georgia’s 2015 legislative session, Thursday, April 2nd will be sine die (last day).  

Reentry Reforms in 2015

Last Friday both of the criminal justice reform bills we were supporting passed in the Senate. HB 310, which requires every eligible Georgian be informed of the First Offender Act passed with a vote of 33-3. HB 328 which provides a state remedy against private background checking companies that provide inaccurate information to employers passed with a vote of 45-3. 

If the bills are signed by the governor they will become effective on July 1, 2015. 

GJP’s Continued Legislative Advocacy: 

  • Restore Intent of First Offender Act 

While delighted that with the passage of HB 310, Georgians eligible for the First Offender Act (FOA) will be informed of such, there are still problems with the FOA that prevent people from getting the second chance the law promises. Though successful first offenders are told the records of the case will be sealed from the public,  private companies continue to report the case to employers. Also, even though the FOA says employers cannot deny employment on the basis of a successful first offender case, employers still deny applicants on  the basis of a successfully completed first offender case. 

In it’s most recent report, the Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommended a First Offender Study Committee to take these and other issues up in the summer of 2015. GJP will work closely with the Council and this committee to inform recommendations that will allow a real second chance under the FOA. 

  • Private Background Reporting

While happy the General Assembly has taken steps to regulate the private background reporting industry, there is still much to be done to ensure consistent criminal records reporting in Georgia. Over the next several months, we will work closely with the Council of Criminal Justice Reform, the Governor’s office and private background checking companies to identify viable options that will improve the accuracy and fairness of private company reporting.

  • Proof of Sentence Completion 

A key obstacle for people with felony convictions in Georgia is establishing for others (e.g., prospective employers, landlords, lenders, and schools) that their sentences have been officially completed and they are no longer under correctional control. At least eight states (VA, NM, AZ, SD, NV, MI, WA, CA) currently provide official documentation to individuals who complete their sentence to assist with securing employment, housing and other opportunities that are necessary to lead productive lives. GJP will advocate that the new Department of Community Supervision create a sentence completion certificate for people who have fully paid their debt to society.

  • Increase Pardon Value 

Individuals who are pardoned by the state should not suffer a lifetime of punishment for their offense(s). Pardoned people should be able to move on with their lives and access jobs, housing and other opportunities in Georgia. Though a notation is placed on the individual’s criminal history, a pardon is of little value because its issuance does not restrict (expunge) the record, nor protect against employment, housing or other type of discrimination. Most employers and others do not place much value on a pardon because they are unsure of the expectation from the state.  GJP will continue to advocate for reforms to the pardon system in Georgia that will protect those with pardons from being unreasonably denied opportunities based on their pardoned offense(s).

What Can You Do?

Thank you for all you did this session to improve reentry in Georgia! It is important that the members of the General Assembly know that while HB 310 and HB 328 were positive steps, there is still more work to be done.

Please call or email your representative and senator and thank them for supporting HB 310 and HB 328. Also share with them that people with criminal records in Georgia will continue to face significant barriers to employment and that more should be done. Let them know specifically that private background reporting is a real issue and it needs to be addressed. 

Your ongoing participation has been central to our success, and we appreciate it.

Click below for previous updates from this session:

February 2, 2015 

February 9, 2015

February 16, 2015

March 25, 2015