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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 24 June 2021

SALEM, OR – Tuesday night, the Oregon House passed Senate Bill 397, the expungement reform bill, with a bipartisan vote of 57-1. The bill now heads to Governor Kate Brown’s desk for signature.

“In Oregon, we believe in safety, equity and second chances,” says Mercedes Elizalde, Public Policy Director with Central City Concern, a member of the Clean Slate Oregon coalition of organizations working in support of expungement reform.

“This meaningful bill will give more Oregonians the opportunity to make a living, take care of their families and participate in their communities after serving their time.”

In Oregon, nearly 1.5 million people have a criminal record. For many, a record creates barriers that perpetuate poverty and racial inequity. Because our Black, Brown, and low-income community members are over-represented at every stage of our criminal legal system, the impacts of criminal records fall disproportionately on these communities. These impacts include reduced opportunities for housing, employment, education, lifelong earning potential, and well-being. These impacts perpetuate poverty and racial inequity, and they affect entire families and communities, not just the individual with the record.

Why change is needed

Once signed into law, SB 397 will update Oregon’s current expungement statute to be in line with best practices, giving people who have fulfilled their sentences better access to employment, housing, education and training opportunities.

The current statute makes people wait up to 20 years to expunge certain convictions—a timeframe that is far longer than national averages, and is out of step with public safety research. On top of a lengthy wait, the expungement process includes expensive fees that don’t take into account a person’s financial circumstances, meaning that low-income individuals, including a disproportionate number of Black and Brown people, are consistently unable to access the second chances that our expungement law should provide.

What will change

SB 397 will simplify and streamline the petition-based process; adjust waiting and look-back periods to align with data and research; remove filing fees and standardize the application form; and accelerate record clearance eligibility for non-conviction records (e.g., arrests, dismissals and acquittals).

Studies show that one year after a record has been cleared, people are 11% more likely to be employed and earn 22% higher wages. This means thriving families, safer communities and fewer taxpayer dollars spent on unemployment benefits and other public assistance.

“When people are doing everything right, there should be a more efficient and equitable solution to expungement. SB 397 provides that path,” says Trish Jordon of Red Lodge Transition Services. “We thank the Oregon legislature for passing SB 397, and urge the governor to sign the bill.”

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