New laws will clear N.J. criminal records for weed and allow people on parole to vote
Below is an article written by Amanda Hoover and published by NJ Advance Media on December 18, 2019.
Some 80,000 people in New Jersey will have their voting rights restored and more will see their criminal records expunged, thanks to two bills Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Wednesday.
“Today is not just about writing a new chapter of New Jersey history,” Murphy told a crowd in the One Stop Career Center in Newark. “It’s about making up for the failures of history.”
More than 100 people packed the center Wednesday morning, two days after the state Legislature passed the bills during a busy session in Trenton. People cheered and at times wiped tears from their eyes, moved to see the long-awaited expungement bill become law.
The expungement bill passed the state Assembly 48-21 and the state Senate 22-15 Monday.
Police have arrested nearly 1 million people in New Jersey on marijuana charges since 1990, according to the state judiciary. That gives the Garden State one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the nation. If those convicted sought to clear their records, they have faced one of the most burdensome expungement systems in the country, as reported earlier this year by NJ Advance Media.
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, teared up as spoke of working with lawmakers on some kind of expungement bill for 10 years. She said they have now accomplished two of many needed social justice reforms.
“We’ve got a little, little bit more to go,” Cunningham said. “And we’re going to get it done.”
Some have criticized expungement, arguing it makes no sense to clear past convictions without decriminalizing pot to stop new arrests. But without legalization, supporters argue expungement is needed immediately to provide relief for those arrested on marijuana charges, as well as offenses committed more than a decade ago.
Lawmakers are also in talks to draft a bill that would decriminalize weed, putting a stop to many of the new arrests. But details on such a measure have remained sparse, even though the governor gave it his support last month.
Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for the Assembly Majority Office, said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and the governor are working “to produce the fairest and most responsible legislation for consumers, the industry and the environment.”
They hope to advance both of these bills in the lame duck session that ends Jan. 14 or early in the next session, he said.
Murphy, a Democrat, conditionally vetoed a similar expungement bill in August. He called for a “clean slate” automated process to clear some convictions and criminal records that took place at least a decade ago. Those convicted of certain marijuana offenses can also have their records sealed under the new law.
The veto mandated creation of an e-filing system, elimination of fees and $15 million to expand the workforce needed to process expungement petitions before the automated system is ready. Officials have hailed automation as the “gold standard” of expungement law. Only two other states, Pennsylvania and Utah, have similar laws.
Senate Democrats could have voted to concur with the governor’s changes, but instead introduced a new bill in September that incorporated nearly all of his recommendations.
Certain aspects of the law, including the establishment of a task force and elimination of fees, will take effect immediately. Other pieces take effect in 180 days.
Some states allow people on probation and parole to vote, and Maine and Vermont allow those incarcerated to still cast their ballots. Higher incarceration rates have often disproportionately barred those in communities of color from voting.
That law will take effect in 90 days, in time for the next election.
“This is not and should not be one party or the other,” Murphy said. “This is the right thing to do.”