YORKVILLE — The Racine County Board will soon weigh in on a bill that could have a dramatic impact on the ability to expunge criminal records.
The bill, which has been passed by the state Assembly, is waiting for a vote in the state Senate and would allow individuals who have been convicted of a non-violent Class H felony the ability to get their record expunged and taken off of the Consolidated Court Automation Programs website.
Current law specifies that the expungement be done at the sentencing and the individual subject to their record being expunged must be under the age of 25. Non-violent Class H felonies include retail theft and possession of small amounts of drugs.
Senate Bill 39 also removes the age limit and the requirement that expungement be done at sentencing. It would apply for an individual who has served their sentence and to individuals whose case is closed.
The Racine County Government Services Committee approved a resolution at its meeting on Tuesday, and if approved by the full County Board would state the county is in support of Senate Bill 39.
Support for resolution
County Board Supervisor Don Trottier of Mount Pleasant spoke in support of the resolution and mentioned that the bill has support from state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers.
“That support here in Racine and statewide is founded on a fundamental principal, one that recognizes that mistakes made, usually in youth, should not define one’s life,” Trottier said. “A felony record, sometimes involving a victimless crime for 20 or more years in the past, weighs down on the individual preventing him or her from improving the quality of their lives.”
Supervisor Melissa Kaprelian-Becker of Racine also spoke in favor of the resolution as something that could help affected individuals gain better employment.
“This is another layer that’s going to help meet our workforce demands,” Kaprelian-Becker said. “I do foresee this having a lot of positive economic impact and that’s something this county has been working very hard on.”
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Joe Peterangelo, senior researcher for the Wisconsin Policy Forum, gave a presentation at the committee meeting.
Peterangelo cited a study the WPF published in 2018 which looked at how many individuals could be affected by changing the criteria to expunge a record.
Peterangelo said about 2,000 cases are expunged each year; in Racine County from 2010 to 2016, a total of 450 cases were expunged.
In one unique point, Peterangelo said Wisconsin is the only state that specifies that expungement be done at the sentencing.
“In every other state, the person comes back and petitions for expungement after they completed their sentence,” Peterangelo said.
If the bill is passed, Peterangelo said it would have a major impact on clerks of courts, court system, district attorney offices, and public defender’s offices across the state.
Despite major bipartisan support, the bill is waiting for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, to bring it to the floor for a vote.
When asked why the bill has not been voted on, Peterangelo responded:
“There are three Republicans, last I understand, that are opposed and Sen. Fitzgerald didn’t want to bring it up with three people opposed, that is my understanding.”
“That support here in Racine and statewide is founded on a fundamental principal, one that recognizes that mistakes made, usually in youth, should not define one’s life.” Don Trottier, Racine County Board member
“That support here in Racine and statewide is founded on a fundamental principal, one that recognizes that mistakes made, usually in youth, should not define one’s life.”
Don Trottier, Racine County Board member