Susan is 25 years old. She has a strong work ethic, is career-minded and a single mother.
However, Susan’s past is haunting her every day. Because of a misdemeanor shoplifting conviction when she was 19, Susan cannot find a job nor pursue her dreams. She lives in poverty with her 2 children. Relatives help her sometimes. But, she does not earn or receive enough income to place her above the poverty level.
But, Susan has hope. Last month, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 288 (SB288) and sent the bill to the Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature. As of today, July 18, Kemp has not signed the bill. However, he has until Aug. 4, 2020, to do so. He can also veto the bill or just let it sit on his desk. If Kemp decides to leave it on his desk, it will automatically become law.
SB288, authored by Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, and guided in the House by Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, would allow some misdemeanors to be restricted and sealed as long as the offender doesn’t commit another offense within four years.
“This bill is intended to give people a second chance. And have their records restricted and position them for reemployment, for housing and to go back to school,” Anderson said.
Our state needs this bill to become law.
If it does become law, it will allow ex-offenders with certain first-time misdemeanor and non-violent felony convictions to petition the court to have their criminal records shielded from public view. Convictions for certain domestic and nuisance charges like family violence and stalking, plus other major offenses like sex crimes, DUI, would not be eligible for records shielding.
When a record is restricted/sealed, the offense is not visible to the public. Judges, attorneys and criminal justice agencies are able to view the offense with a court order.
Currently, Georgia law provides for limited record sealing for certain misdemeanors, but only for certain misdemeanors committed before an individual turned 21 years old. The Second Chance Bill would expand Georgia’s current restriction and record-sealing law, eliminating the age limitation.
Having theft, shoplifting, or any offense that involves stealing on a person’s criminal history is worse than most felony offenses. Employers can look past an aggravated assault conviction. However, it is very difficult for employers to hire a person when they see the word “theft” for obvious reasons.
However, most misdemeanor shoplifting cases involve a very young person with no criminal history.
Statistics and personal experience representing people who have been charged with a crime clearly show that many people in Georgia have committed a misdemeanor offense when they were young. As people grow older, they mature, learn from past mistakes, and become extremely responsible adults.
As an employer, I strongly support the Second Chance Bill because:
1. This bill removes a heavy burden of being labeled a thief or shoplifter;
2. the provisions in SB 288 will increase the number of people working in our community, decrease the amount of people who rely on family or the government for financial assistance.
3. Part of American culture includes giving people a second chance. Judge Alton P Johnson Psalms this concept rather clearly. In court, he often tells defendants,” fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”
4. When the unemployment rate is low, our state benefits from an increase in tax revenue from workers and can lead to higher rates of repeated offenses;
5. This limits opportunities for these individuals to become productive members of their communities;
6. Lastly, passing this law is just the right thing to do.
I humbly ask for your support of SB 288. You can do this by contacting your state representative, state senator, and/or the Office of Governor Brian Kemp and asking them to get this done.
Let’s keep SB288, the Second Chance Bill, a public point of discussion until it is signed or left on Gov. Kemp’s desk after Aug. 4, 2020.
Jason Swindle is a Carrollton attorney.