By Lexi Browning
For the West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate’s Committee on Economic Development took steps Wednesday to aid the state’s workforce.
The Committee passed Senate Bill 76, known as the Second Chance for Employment Act. It was one three bills passed by the committee. S.B. 76 will be reported to the floor with reference to Judiciary.
S.B. 76 would expunge the criminal records of nonviolent offenders based on the severity of the crimes committed and offers a one-time record expunge after a trial period. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Glen Jeffries, D-Putnam. Co-sponsors include Senators Mike Romano, D-Harrison; Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier; Richard Ojeda, D-Logan; Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell; Robert Beach, D-Monogalia; Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha; Doug Facemire, D-Braxton; and Ron Stollings, D-Boone.
Eligibility for expungement, as outlined in text, includes any “nonviolent felony” with the exception of four certain convictions. Ineligible convictions include: “felony crime of violence against the person,” a “felony offense wherein the victim was a minor child,” a “felony offense involving the use or exhibition of a firearm,” or a “felony involving possession of controlled substance with intent to sell or deliver to a minor.”
The bill, which was introduced in the 2016 session as S.B. 411, passed the Senate unanimously but died in the House.
The Rev. Matthew Watts, who strongly supported the movement during last year’s session, said without a second chance, many individuals lose hope in finding careers based on their pasts. This cycle, he said, contributed to the perpetuation of poverty in the state.
“There are 150,000 felons in the state of West Virginia today. That’s 10 percent of our adult population,” Watts said. “And as you know, many of those offenses were nonviolent offenses. The majority of those people never reoffend. But a felony, as you know, is a life consequence with a life sentence. They get legally discriminated against.”
Watts said the “felon” label stuck around even after the individuals earned educations and made efforts to better themselves. For many, S.B. 76 could restore their citizenship and create a clean slate, Watts said.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said he encouraged Watts to put as much pressure as possible on the House leadership to pass the bill.
“This is a good bill for good people,” Romano said. “If you keep your nose clean for ten years, any mistakes you made in the past should be forgotten.”
Other legislation passed included:
S.B. 501 would create a Minority Economic Development Advisory Team to assist the Director of Economic Development Authority. Members of the council would serve five-year terms and be appointed by the governor.
Those appointed to the advisory team will not receive compensation for their efforts “but may be reimbursed by the West Virginia Economic Development Authority for all reasonable and necessary expenses annually incurred,” the bill states.
The council would be required to meet quarterly.
S.B. 501 was referred to the floor with a motion from Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, to waive its second reference to the Government Organization Committee.
S.B. 38 proposed adding a five-year tax credit for businesses located on post-mine sites, which included a fiscal note of $23,000 in 2018 and $5,000 in the years that followed.
Romano expressed criticism of the bill’s language, noting that individuals could exploit it for their own advantage.
S.B. 38 passed with one amendment.