Assembly committee discusses expungement reform bill

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety held a public hearing for a series of assembly bills on Thursday.

One of those bills is Assembly Bill 33 which relates to expungement reform.

State Representative David Steffen (R – Green Bay), State Representive Evan Goyke (D, Milwaukee), and State Senator Alberta Darling (R – District 8) are the coauthors of the bill.

They say the state has always been at the forefront for expungement reform.

“We are outliers,” said Sen. Darling. “There are only seven other states that have laws like ours.”

Rep. Steffen said Wisconsin was the very first state to touch on expungement.

“In 40 years we haven’t done as many updates as maybe we should have,” Rep. Steffen said. “But once we get this into law we’ll be at the top.”

The current law allows for judges to order expungement if the conviction is for a class H felony or below, the crime wasn’t violent, the person committed the crime before the age of 25, and has no previous felony conviction.

If expunged, the crime wouldn't be considered a conviction for employment purposes.

“We’re talking about non-violent, low risk offenders,” said Sen. Darling. “We’re not talking about sex offenders or drunk drivers.”

The bill would remove the age limitation.

“There are people around the state who had a low level offense early in their life and that situation has been a black mark which has prevented them from moving forward,” said Rep. Steffen.

It would also allow convicts to request expungement upon sentence completion if it wasn’t ordered.

“We are the only state in America that requires the sentencing court at the time of sentencing to make this decision,” said Rep. Goyke. “We should allow people to come back to court after they've completed their sentence and prove that they've been rehabilitated.”
The bill outlines the requirements a convict must meet to be eligible for expungement: a successful completion of their sentence, one year following the sentence where he or she remains crime free, and all court fees paid in full.

From there, Goyke says the court would review the application to make sure one is eligible. A prosecutor would then have 90 days to communicate with the victim of the crime and decide whether or not to oppose the application for expungement.
Goyke said if they decide to oppose it a hearing would take place.
“To give the prosecutor and the victim a voice in opposition to the expungement,” said Goyke. “Judges would use their discretion, their judgment to decide whether or not to issue expungement.”
While the coauthors say this benefits the individual, it benefits the state too in regards to workforce development.

“Many of the offenders have said they would like to have a good paying job and many cases their criminal record keeps them from having this job,” Sen. Darling said. “It's also a huge challenge for employers because it's very difficult to find employees that they can hire.”

Rep. Steffen says expungement is the most cost effective opportunity for workforce development.

“I think everyone's got a story, everyone has a story of a neighbor a friend, something of that kind where they've had that opportunity,” he said. “A missed opportunity to really move forward with their life.”
The bill already has 71 bipartisan co-sponsors. It will be up for discussion in a state senate hearing sometime next month.