The lawmakers in this building want to help people with old criminal convictions.
The lawmakers in this building want to help people with old criminal convictions. Lester Black
Washington state is one step closer to making it easier for people to clear old criminal convictions, baby! The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill this morning that would make it substantially easier for people to clear old misdemeanors and felonies from their criminal record.

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Rep. Drew Hansen, a Democrat from Bainbridge who sponsored the legislation, told me shortly after Friday's vote that he was happy to see bipartisan support for the law.

"It is tremendous to see Democrats and Republicans in a very politically divided state, in a very politically divided country, come together and unanimously affirm that... when people have turned their lives around it should be easier for them to clear their records to get a shot at a better life," Hansen said.

The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Morgan Irwin, a Republican from Enumclaw.

Criminal convictions create huge roadblocks to finding employment and housing. The current laws can force people to wait decades to clear their convictions, which creates a situation where someone can spend their entire life being haunted by a mistake they made decades earlier. This new bill doesn't automatically expunge criminal records, but it does make it easier and expands the types of records that can be cleared.

The bill, which is being called the New Hope Act, now must pass the Washington state Senate and then be signed by the governor before it can become law. Hansen said the bill was one of the first off the House floor, which gives it a better chance of passing the Senate and shows "how important this cause is to both parties."

"The danger for most bills is you show up late in the process and the Senate jams up. Getting off the House floor this early gives the Senate plenty of time to reflect on this policy and, god willing, come to the same conclusion that we in the House did," Hansen said.

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The bill would not automatically clear anyone’s criminal record—people would still need to get a judge’s approval for each criminal vacation—but it would reduce the amount of time it takes to go through the process and expand the types of convictions that are eligible for vacation.

The New Hope Act does this in three main ways. First, it makes it easier for people to get what is called a “certificate of discharge,” which is a legal document showing that they have satisfied all of the conditions of their sentence.

The Washington Senate, where the New Hope Act is headed next.
The Washington Senate, where the New Hope Act is headed next. Lester Black
In theory, a person has all of their civil rights returned to them after they receive that certificate of discharge. But, even with this certificate, people still face discrimination in areas like housing and employment. That’s why this bill would also make it easier for people to go one step further and request that a court vacate their convictions once they have gone crime-free for a period of time. The bill would expand the number and type of criminal vacations a person can get.

The bill would also fix a strange legal situation where people can vacate an unlimited number of felonies but lesser misdemeanors are limited to just one vacation per person. Hansen said “that’s insane” to limit lesser crimes to just one vacation without limiting the number of more serious felony convictions.

The bill would expand the types of convictions that can be vacated. People would be able to vacate:

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  • second-degree felony assault
  • third-degree felony assault, when not committed against law enforcement
  • second-degree felony robbery, as long as it wasn’t committed with a firearm or has a sexual motivation or deadly weapon involved

    Those convictions are not currently eligible for criminal vacations. Read the explanation of the bill here to find out more about which types of convictions are covered.

    People would also be able to request vacations sooner under the proposed law. Right now, waiting periods are tied to when a person receives their certificate of discharge, which is dependent on them paying back all of their fines and associated costs. Under this law, the clock starts ticking as soon as the person is released from custody, not until they pay back of their fines, which can take decades. A person would also need to wait 10 years for a class B felony and five years for a class C felony and not have been convicted of a crime during that time period.

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