Queens lawmakers continue push for law that would seal conviction records

Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered the 2022 State of the State Address in Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol on Jan. 5. (Photo credit: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

State legislators from Queens are pushing their colleagues to pass the Clean Slate Act after Gov. Kathy Hochul endorsed the bill in her State of the State address.

Hochul said that the Clean Slate Act (S1553A/A6399) would create jobs for New Yorkers, pointing out that conviction records stifle access to employment. This legislation would end the prolonged punishment of those with conviction records by automatically sealing certain records after the requirements of the criminal legal system have been met.

Specifically, the law would allow certain felony records to be sealed after seven years and certain misdemeanor records to be sealed after three years, following the completion of a sentence.

Four years ago, the state implemented an application system for sealing records, but now advocates and lawmakers, including state Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, are working on expanding that.

“The Clean Slate Act is a vital proposal that would promote economic growth and right the wrongs of the criminal legal system,” Gianaris said. “I am heartened by Governor Hochul’s support as well as so many of my colleagues. Now is the time to get it done.”

According to advocates, the application-based law has had little effect over the last four years. Less than 0.5% of eligible individuals have had their records sealed. 

Previously convicted New Yorkers face pervasive discrimination in the job market. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the state loses $2 billion in wages annually because the state shuts out formerly incarcerated individuals from the workforce. Additionally, those who serve time in prison lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings, deepening economic inequality. The Center for Economic Policy Research estimated that shutting out formerly incarcerated people results in about $87 million in lost GDP annually. 

Among other Queens sponsors of the Clean Slate Act is Corona Assembly member Catalina Cruz. Cruz said that too many lives have been destroyed because of this employment discrimination.

“Not only do we have a moral imperative to act, Clean Slate can help facilitate economic growth, increase our tax base and strengthen our communities by allowing more people to enter the labor force,” Cruz said. “At a time when many businesses are struggling to fill open positions, this bill is a no-brainer. I am glad Gov. Hochul recognizes how essential the Clean Slate Act is for our economy, and am ready to work with my colleagues in Albany to get this bill passed.”