AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature is again considering a bill that would allow some people who have been convicted of certain crimes to have their convictions expunged.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. James Dill, D-Old Town, would allow those who have served a prison sentence or paid a fine for committing certain crimes to ask a court, after five years have passed, to expunge their criminal records. The measure would largely apply to nonviolent and low-level felonies and would exclude any crimes against a child or person over age 65.

“It is neither appropriate nor productive to allow someone who does not present a danger to society to lose opportunities to move forward with their life, based on a mistake they made and were punished for a long time ago,” Dill told members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday during a public hearing at the State House.

Dill said the measure is critical for those who have trouble finding jobs and are otherwise ostracized long after they have paid for their crimes.

The bill, L.D. 1897, which faces additional work sessions and committee votes, would make Maine the 35th state to allow such records to be expunged.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have tried to pass similar bills in recent years, including in 2018 and last year.

The most serious violent crimes, including murder, assault, sexual assault and convictions involving domestic violence, bribery, sex trafficking, corruption, prostitution and public indecency, would not be eligible.

Opponents of the bill, including the Legislature’s Criminal Law Advisory Committee, said it presents numerous problems and would create a process similar to a gubernatorial pardon, with conviction records destroyed or sealed forever.

In a memo to the Legislature, members of that committee said the bill would present a constitutional dilemma if it created a pardon power outside the executive branch. The bill could also hinder law enforcement officials who may need access to criminal records for investigations, the memo stated.

Also opposed to the bill was Judith Meyer, vice president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition and executive editor of the Sun Journal, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel newspapers. Meyer, representing the Maine Press Association, told lawmakers the association supports some relief for those who may have committed a “single minor offense in their youth, or even later.”

But Meyer pointed out a number of the crimes that could be expunged under the proposal did not fit that category, including stalking, the unlawful transfer of a handgun to a minor, reckless conduct, criminal threatening, misuse of public benefits, falsifying evidence, criminal trespass and even criminal use of a laser pointer.

Other convictions that could be expunged include harassment, witness tampering, criminal use of explosives and impersonating a public servant, Meyer said.

“It would also be fair to say that, while this bill is intended to provide relief for nonviolent crimes, the victims of crimes may see it another way,” Meyer said.

The bill is also being opposed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child and Family Services.

“(The Office of Children and Family Services) is tasked with assessing allegations of abuse and/or neglect and ensuring child safety,” office Director Todd Landry wrote to the committee. “One important tool in OCFS’ efforts to gain the most complete picture possible during an assessment is an individual’s criminal history.”

Landry wrote that the bill could limit his agency’s ability to collect information it needs to protect vulnerable Maine children.

The legislation is among about a half dozen bills designed to provide a second chance to people who have been convicted of minor crimes or were convicted of offenses, especially marijuana-related, that are no longer crimes in Maine.

Wednesday, the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee will take testimony on a bill that would limit an employer’s ability to ask about a job applicant’s criminal background on an initial employment application.

The Legislature is also considering a resolve to continue having its Criminal Records Review Committee, created in 2019, to study what other states have done when it comes to vacating, sealing or expunging criminal convictions.

All of the bills will be subject to future work sessions and votes before the full Legislature in the weeks ahead.

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