Bill granting ‘clean slate’ advances in Minnesota House

Minnesota could become one of a handful of states granting Minnesotans with minor criminal records a “clean slate” so they have an easier time finding work or places to live.

The Clean Slate Act we’re hearing today has a simple premise,” said bill author Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis. “We should give those who have paid their debt to society an opportunity for redemption.”

Long says about 1 in 4 Minnesotans have a criminal record of some kind, most of them with minor offenses. Meanwhile, 90% of companies do criminal background checks on prospective employees or tenants. If you do the math on that, he says, you can understand why this is a problem.

“Too often having a criminal record severely limits an individual’s ability to find jobs, housing or education,” Long said in a virtual hearing Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee.

The Clean Slate Act would grant automatic expungements after a period of years for certain minor offenses. Examples include petty misdemeanors other than traffic or parking violations; misdemeanors other than assault and domestic assaults; and gross misdemeanors other than assault, domestic violence and burglary.

The bill has bipartisan support and support from the business community, which is suffering severe worker shortages.

“We know the importance of having a trained and skilled workforce — particularly given the shortages you’ve heard about this morning — and believe this legislation will help be a part of filling that void,” testified Jonathan Weinhagen of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, which represents 2,300 employers.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously and now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. A similar bill in the Republican-controlled Senate is still in committee.