Senate Committee Passes Bill to Reduce Costs of Expungements

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BATON ROUGE (The Center Square) — Legislation to reform the expungement process in Louisiana gained approval from a Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Committee members approved House Bill 707, sponsored by Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, to automate the expungement of certain qualifying felony and misdemeanor criminal records in an effort to reduce the cost and burden.

“Right now, it’s very costly, it’s very inefficient, to try to get an expungement,” Duplessis told the committee. “People who are already legally entitled to an expungement. What often stands in front of them being able to get an expungement is the cost and the amount of time, not just the $550 you have to pay but the amount you have to pay to get an attorney.”

HB 707 would require the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information to identify within its criminal repository database all records with final dispositions for individuals eligible for an expungement. Beginning on August 1, 2024, and every month after, the bureau would send eligible records to the Louisiana Supreme Court Case Management Information System.

The system would then have a month to send notice of all records expunged by automation to district court clerks, who would verify and identify those records. The clerks would then notify the district attorney of the relevant parish and the arresting agency, which would be required to acknowledge the records expunged by automation.

The bill would not prevent law enforcement from using the expunged record for applying the Habitual Offender Law, or for courts to use expunged records for setting bail or sentencing.

The legislation would increase state general fund spending by a total of about $7.7 million over five years to carry out the work, which includes new positions within the Department of Public Safety and Louisiana Supreme Court, upgrades to the necessary case management and criminal records computer systems. The bill would also increase costs for Clerk of Court offices, while reducing revenues for the Department of Public Safety, local courts, district attorneys, sheriffs and the Office of Motor Vehicles.

HB 707 “provides for an automated expungement of criminal records from 2000 to 2021, which eliminates all fees associated with obtaining the expungement of a record,” according to a fiscal analysis. “The exact decrease in revenue for (Louisiana State Police) and (the Office of Motor Vehicles) as well as local revenue is indeterminable as it is unknown the number of individuals who may file a motion for an expungement in the future that will no longer file as a result of this measure.”

Duplessis said the legislation could impact up to 2.5 million records.

Sarah Whittington, with the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana, testified that HB 707 would not change eligibility criteria for expungement, which require those convicted of misdemeanors to show five years without any felony convictions and 10 years with no felony or misdemeanor convictions for those convicted of felonies.

She also noted that those convicted of certain violent or sex crimes would remain ineligible.

Duplessis noted that amendments in the House would subject participation by clerks to an appropriation by the Legislature.

Sen. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, questioned the heavy cost of the legislation, but Whittington countered that research shows the money invested is recouped in the state economy through returning more folks to the workforce.

“The state ultimately will see if you invest in technology and systems, the … return on investment to the Louisiana economy will be extremely significant,” she said.

“We look at this as an investment to improve our overall (criminal justice) system,” Duplessis added.

Sen. Bodi White, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, noted the cost of the legislation is significantly reduced from similar bills in prior legislative sessions.

“We limited the number of files and records that would be applicable,” Duplessis said, adding that an appropriation is already in the state budget for the Supreme Court and State Police to begin, if HB 707 becomes law.

“Still it’s hard to get past that the state is paying for every aspect of this criminal’s process, the arrest, the prosecution, the jail, and now the expungement,” White said.

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