Louisiana lawmakers have once again failed to pass a new law that would allow for the automatic erasure of criminal records.
A dispute between House Democrats and Republicans has soured a bill that could have made it easier for thousands of Louisiana residents to find housing and jobs. Similar legislation died in the final days of the 2021 legislative session.
House Bill 707Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, would have set the state up to begin automatically erasing people’s arrest and conviction records in 2024, but with some limitations.
Only arrests and convictions after 1999 would have been eligible. City and municipal court records would have been excluded.
Currently, someone who wants to have their criminal record expunged must pay a $550 fee to complete the process, and they usually have to hire an attorney to help. Some violent offenses, such as homicide, are not eligible for expungement.
Advocates for formerly incarcerated people and some district attorneys have been pushing to simplify expungement for years. Not being able to afford or navigate the complicated process can prevent someone from getting a new job or promotion. It can also make it harder to get housing.
Proposals to automate Louisiana’s delisting process have received broad support from Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature. They also ran into barriers in terms of their cost and the workload they would create for police, clerks, and the Louisiana Supreme Court. The state would need to spend money to build a computer program that would allow for automatic debarment.
An initial version of Duplessis’ bill also would have completely eliminated the $550 expungement fee, which goes to Louisiana State Police, court clerks, sheriffs and district attorneys. Clerks and state police, in particular, also said they should hire more staff to handle the automated process.
Still, Duplessis and others were optimistic that his legislation would finally pass this year, especially after more than $3 million to build an automated delisting process was added to the state budget proposal on last month. This was seen as a sign that cost concerns had been properly addressed.
The legislation began to run into trouble again when Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bodi White, R-Central, opposed the proposal because, he said, those convicted of crimes should not not be able to have their file erased without paying a fee.
The Senate Finance Committee, led by White, ended up changing Duplessis’ legislation to require that a portion of the money be taken from the tax refund of each person whose criminal record was expunged under his law Project.
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Proponents of automated delisting weren’t sure it would be possible without more funding. It is not clear that the Department of State Revenue has a mechanism to easily capture tax refunds to be used for this purpose.
The Republican Senate leadership also did not bring Duplessis’ legislation to the Senate until June 3, when the number of votes required to pass automatically increased. The bill was also caught up in an unrelated fight between House Democrats and Republicans.
In the final days of the session, Democrats had more sway than usual over Republicans because the GOP leadership of the Legislature had not advanced enough bills from several conservative lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly. process to allow them to pass without a few votes from Democratic or independent lawmakers.
When Democrats took advantage of this leverage — and began blocking Republican bills — GOP lawmakers retaliated by blocking Democratic bills as well. One was Duplessis’ automated expungement law, which failed to gain the Republican support it needed to pass before the session adjourned on Monday.