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Clean Slate, which seals some criminal records, has been approved in both the state Senate and Assembly

The New York state Capitol building.
Wangkun Jia
The New York state Capitol building.

The New York State Legislature voted Friday to pass a measure to seal some people’s criminal records so they have a better chance of getting a job or finding housing.

The measure, known as Clean Slate, allows for the sealing of certain criminal records after a person has served their time. Someone convicted of a misdemeanor would have to wait for three years before applying to get their records expunged. For a felony conviction, they would have to wait eight years.

“We can make our communities safer by giving people a second chance,” said Assembly sponsor Catalina Cruz, a Democrat who represents portions of Queens. “Stability reduces recidivism.”

Some crimes are excluded and not eligible for sealing, including Class A felonies that are punished by a sentence of life in prison as well as convictions requiring that the person register as a sex offender.

The agreement was hailed by advocates, including the Center for Community Alternatives, which called it “historic legislation that will bring relief to millions of New Yorkers who have been excluded from economic opportunity, stable housing, and higher education for far too long.”

During debate, lawmakers who were themselves incarcerated or had family members who were imprisoned spoke about their experiences.

Assemblyman Eddie Gibbs, who represents portions of East Harlem, is the first formerly incarcerated person to serve in the New York State Legislature. Gibbs served 5½ years for a manslaughter conviction.

He said he would not be an elected representative today if not for the compassion of his lawyer. The attorney and his family helped Gibbs get a special certificate of good conduct five years after he was released to help him get a job.

Gibbs said the trust that his attorney and his family showed him made him “feel like a human” again. He said he was still barred, though, from seeking employment as a corrections officer in a prison because he could not get a gun license.

Gibbs said he was eventually elected to the Assembly and became a success story. But, he said, there are 2.3 million other New Yorkers who are not as lucky.

“Unfortunately, everybody doesn’t have that path cut out for them,” Gibbs said. “And that’s why, Mr. Speaker, I stand here, in support of this bill.”

Assemblyman Kenny Burgos of the Bronx said after his father was convicted of a crime, he was unable to be rehired after he served his time even though he was an experienced telecommunications specialist. Burgos said his father eventually began his own business and now employs 35 people, including some who were formerly incarcerated. His father has never committed another crime.

“This bill is an economic bill,” said Burgos, who added that for too many years, there have been barriers in New York state to individuals who have served their time and tried to get employment, further their education, or access housing.

“This bill is also a racial justice bill,” Burgos said. “Because it is not a secret nor a question that the majority of individuals who are incarcerated in this state are Black and Latino individuals.”

The measure is backed by the state’s Business Council, and other major state employers, including National Grid.

Republicans, who are in the minority party in both houses, objected. They said the measure goes too far and would allow people convicted of manslaughter or endangering the welfare of a child to eventually see their records sealed.

Assemblyman Ed Ra, who represents portions of Nassau County on Long Island, said the bill does not do enough to protect children from potential harm.

“There’s a lot of good intentions,” Ra said. “But we seem to take it too far.”

Assemblyman John McGowan, who is from Rockland County in the Hudson Valley and is a former special victims prosecutor, said the people he represented didn’t get a second chance.

“Our victims don’t get a second chance,” McGowan said. “Someone who’s a robbery victim, a burglary victim, will live with that for the rest of their lives. There is no ‘Clean Slate’ for our victims.”

“It’s the wrong message,” McGowan said.

The measure now goes to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is expected to sign it.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.