Clean Slate Act offered by Ernst gives Americans another chance post-criminal offense

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on April 27 introduced a bipartisan bill that would require certain criminal records be automatically sealed in order to help remove barriers to employment for those who have paid their debt to society. 

The Clean Slate Act of 2021, S. 1380, which Sen. Ernst cosponsored with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), would give more than 70 million Americans with low-level and nonviolent criminal records a second chance to fully participate in their communities, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Ernst’s staff.

“Even after paying their debt to society, oftentimes those who have been charged with low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors face significant barriers to employment, housing, and other necessities,” Sen. Ernst said. “Giving folks a clean slate with this bipartisan and bicameral legislation is a commonsense criminal justice reform to offer a second chance to millions, while keeping our communities safe.” 

If enacted, S. 1380 would require that federal arrest records for individuals not convicted and records for individuals convicted of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses be automatically sealed after the individuals successfully complete their sentence, the bill summary says, and would establish new procedures to allow individuals to petition a federal district judge to review and potentially seal records for other nonviolent offenses that are not automatically sealed.

U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) are expected soon to introduce their chamber’s version of the bill. The legislation has garnered support from Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for American Progress, the Due Process Institute, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Justice Action Network, among several other companies and organizations.

The same-named bill was introduced in 2019 and 2020 in both houses of Congress, but stalled in each chamber’s Judiciary Committee.

“This historic legislation would, for the first time, create a path to clearing federal records by petition, while establishing automatic record-clearance starting with low-level federal drug records — an impactful platform to build on,” said Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.