Wisconsin legislators are looking to reform current law governing the expungement of criminal records. Among other things, SB-39 would allow those convicted of crimes for which the maximum term of imprisonment is six years or less (including some felonies) to ask a judge to expunge their convictions even if they fail to do so at the time of sentencing, as is currently required. It would also allow those older than age 25 at the time of an offense to request expungement, and expressly provide that an expunged record cannot be considered a conviction for purposes of employment. The standard under present law would be carried forward, which lets judges grant expungement if they determine “that the person will benefit and society will not be harmed.”
The rationale for the bill, which has broad bipartisan support, is to give those who have made minor mistakes a fresh start, including supposedly enhanced employment opportunities. It is one of several current proposals to expand the availability of expungement.
Secrecy in government, compounded by court-ordered secrecy, gives rise to speculation and rumor. That never serves the public interest. A case involving Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney and Racine Alderperson Sandy Weidner illustrates that very well. Last August, the city attorney sought an ethics violation sanction against the alderperson for sharing allegedly confidential communications from his office with constituents. Letteney called for a closed meeting of the executive committee of the city council, at which he presented a PowerPoint of about 30 slides, mostly emails from Weidner to constituents.
This column is a companion to our story revealing that the length of time bills were deliberated dropped significantly soon after Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators took control in 2011. In this piece Center managing editor Dee J. Hall explains the origins and methodology of the analysis.