A bill which expands the number of crimes that can be erased from criminal records will become law without the governor’s signature after legislators easily overrode him this week.
Act 237 would expand the types of nonviolent crimes eligible for removal from a criminal record history, a process known as “expungement.” Current state law only allows a person’s first minor offense to be expunged. The bill would have allowed additional offenses to also be covered if they were part of the same arrest, such as a person charged with multiple possession counts in the same incident.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, argued many South Carolinians cannot get hired because of long-ago convictions. “At some point, we’ve got to recognize we have a criminal justice system that properly punishes,” he said. “And then we try to bring those folks back into society and let them be productive members.”
In his veto message last month, McMaster said he believes businesses have a right to know the background of a potential employee they are hiring. “Criminal history, like all history, should not be erased. It can be instructive, but it need not be destructive or determinative; where complicated, it can be contextualized,” his veto statement said. “I believe in the rule of law, but I also believe in grace, and I am cognizant of the challenges that individuals with criminal records face when reentering our communities and applying for jobs.”
The House and Senate easily overrode the veto, however, in combined 143-6 votes.The proposal had the support of business groups such as the state Chamber of Commerce, which argued eligible jobseekers were being immediately rejected from potential jobs because of a minor conviction on their criminal background check.
“The bill will expand South Carolina’s workforce, making our state more economically competitive and continuing our economic prosperity,” Greenville Chamber CEO Carlos Phillips said.
The proposed law would also expunge criminal charges which are no longer specific crimes, but could be covered by other expungement-eligible offenses. Pope gave the example of a constituent who is currently ineligible for expungement because he was convicted to the no-longer-existent “Theft From a Vending Machine” rather than Petit Larceny.
It was the backing of State Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel which eventually garnered enough support from Republicans to pass. Under the law, the State Law Enforcement Division would still maintain a database with the expunged charges, but that database would not be accessible to the general public or subject to criminal background checks.