Opinion

Tightening Access to Criminal Records

Opinion

By Brad McDougall

The Massachusetts Legislature recently passed a criminal-justice reform bill that narrows the ability of employers to research the criminal records of job applicants, but also provides legal protection from negligent-hiring claims to companies that are unable to view a sealed criminal record.

The state Senate and House of Representatives both passed the measure with overwhelming majorities. Gov. Charlie Baker must now decide to sign or veto it.

Inclusion of the negligent-hiring provision grew out of discussions brokered by Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) last summer between sponsors of the bill and employers who rely upon criminal background checks through the state Criminal Offender Records Information (CORI) system. The provision protects employers that conduct background checks and end up hiring individuals with criminal records that are sealed, expunged, or no longer available to employers.

Among its key elements, the reform bill:

• Accelerates the ability of offenders to seal records from 10 years to seven years for felonies and from five years to three years for misdemeanors;

• Raises the threshold that defines felony larceny from $250 to $1200, thus classifying more cases as misdemeanors that can be quickly sealed or expunged;

• Assures that cases dismissed before arraignment do not appear on criminal records;

• Assures that youthful-offender cases tried in juvenile court are treated as juvenile instead of adult CORI;

• Allows expungement of non-serious cases up to age 21 (both juveniles and young adults); and

• Prevents employers from inquiring about sealed or expunged cases.

Organizations that serve vulnerable populations, such as school systems or nursing homes, would continue to have broader access to criminal records.

Brad McDougall is vice president of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

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