SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - A California bill could help millions of offenders erase their criminal records –the goal is to reduce their chances of recidivism by making it easier for them to land jobs and find housing. But District Attorneys across the state –and on the Central Coast –say the measure is 'dangerous'.
"AB 1076 will help millions of Californians," said democratic Assembly member Phil Ting of San Francisco, the bill's author.
Ting says many offenders are having a hard time rejoining society after paying their dues because they can't find housing or jobs with a criminal background.
"What we're doing is streamlining the process for which they can get their records cleared," he said.
The proposal asks the state's Attorney General to create a database that would automatically clear someone's slate once they've finished probation after serving in county jail.
"That database would then be circulated to the 58 county courts, so when people call and do background checks, they would not release their records or that information."
That information would still be accessible to law enforcement.
The current system already allows most offenders to expunge their record after serving time and being on probation by filing a petition with the local courts. But the San Francisco lawmaker says it's a long, and complicated process that could take several months.
"This keeps communities safer because as people reenter into their communities, it would make sense for us to help them get a job," Ting said.
Ting said the proposal would apply to those with minor criminal offenses.
Anyone who's been arrested but never convicted of a crime would also qualify to get their records automatically cleared without filing a petition with the court.
The California District Attorney's Association is opposing the measure for many reasons. San Luis Obispo County D.A Dan Dow says what AB 1076 is proposing would create chaos.
"This bill is trying to apply a one size fits all approach, and making something automatic for a class of people without giving a judge, or the prosecutor, or the victim in the case an opportunity to weigh in," said Dow. "If the database is not accurate, for one, then people could be getting relief that they're not entitled to. Or maybe some people who are really entitled to relief, the data is not correct in the database and so they don't get the relief.
"The system works today."
Dow believes creating a database like the one Ting envisions is not feasible, either.
"It requires the Department of Justice to every week review databases to see who is eligible and then automatically grant relief. It will create a lot of errors, and down the line it's gonna cost lawsuits."
In a letter to Ting stating opposition to AB 1076, the California District Attorney's Association also argued the legislation would be unfair to victims.
"If there's a victim involved in the crime, we can't allow anything automatic to happen without them being given proper notification," said Dow, who is also a board member of CDAA. "We're often focusing on the harm being done on the person after they've been convicted, but we've gotta focus as well on victims."
According to Dow, the San Luis Obispo County D.A's office receives 12,000 to 14,000 mew criminal cases every year.
Santa Barbara County D.A Joyce Dudley tells our newsroom she opposes the legislation, too.
This is Assembly member Ting's second attempt at passing legislation like this.
"The last attempt was really asking the courts to proactively do it. They bogged that because of the cost, so we think this is a much cheaper, more efficient alternative."
Ting said the nonprofit organization Code for America offered to help create the database for free if A.G Xavier Becerra is willing to work with them.
"Creating a database is fairly easy to do, and not very complex," he said.
The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 12, and should come up for a vote by mid-September.