March 25, 2014: Legislative Session Concluded

Reentry Bills Passed in 2014

Senate Bill 365

On Tuesday, March 18th the House of Representatives passed SB365 by a vote of 164-2. The bill eliminates the automatic suspension of drivers’ licenses for some drug offenses, creates a Certificate of Program and Treatment Completion to demonstrate an individual’s positive steps toward reentry, and protects employers that hire people with either the Certificate of Program and Treatment Completion or a pardon.

House Bill 845

Also on March 18th, the Senate passed HB845 by a vote of 48-0. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Strickland, prohibits the online posting of booking photos (mug shots) as well as the release of these photos by law enforcement to any entity that will charge for removal. As you may already know, many for profit websites publish booking photos obtained from arresting agencies. Most advertise that they will remove a photo for a fee, but even after the fee(s) are paid, the photos may continue to appear online – often on another website owned by the same company. HB845 will make it more difficult for these companies to access and publish booking photos.

*The General Assembly concluded the 2014 Legislative Session on Thursday, March 20th.   The bills now await Governor Deal’s signature to become law.

GJP’s Upcoming Legislative Advocacy

Accurate Private Background Reporting –

Employment of people with criminal records is a key component of the Governor’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform’s recommendations on reentry. One of the Council’s goals was to make sure that people whose records have been officially restricted and sealed can get jobs without consumer reporting agencies reporting these records to employers. As you may recall, this was originally included in the version of SB365 that passed in the Senate, but was later deleted by a House subcommittee when there was pressure from companies like LexisNexis.

Over the next several months, GJP 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.

Create Sentence Completion Certificate –

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. Georgia should join these states and create a sentence completion certificate for people who have fully paid their debt to society.

Restore Intent of First Offender Act –

The First Offender Act, known as Georgia’s “second chance law,” was first enacted in 1968 and is supposed to allow certain first-time offenders to avoid a conviction, a public record and employment discrimination if they successfully complete their sentence. In reality, however, first offenders do not get this second chance because, even after completion of the sentence, the records are reported by private companies then used the information to deny employment. Georgia should restore the intent of the First Offender Act and ensure a real second chance to first offenders by prohibiting the reporting of these records by private companies and strengthening the employment discrimination protection for successful first offenders.  

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.  Georgia should protect those with pardons from being unreasonably denied opportunities based on their pardoned offense(s).

How You Can Help

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 SB365 and HB845 were positive steps, there is still more work to be done.

Please call or email your representative and senator and thank them for supporting SB 365 and HB845. 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.

 Thanks for your support,

 

Marissa McCall Dodson,

GJP Policy Director