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House, Senate vote to expand record expungement eligibility

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A comprehensive bill to change several aspects of Ohio’s criminal justice system — which included an expansion to record expungement eligibility — passed the Ohio House and Ohio Senate during the lame-duck session.

The expungement provisions in SB288 would allow people who were charged with misdemeanors and certain felonies to terminate their criminal records.

The process would involve a judicial review and be open to a challenge by prosecutors and victims.

Under the bill, which awaits Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature or veto, a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor could apply to have that offense expunged three years after serving out their sentence.

A person convicted of fifth- and fourth-degree felonies can also apply to have their record expunged 10 years after serving out their sentence. The bill would also apply for no more than two third-degree felonies.

Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) said this can help people who want to move past their previous mistakes.

“It’s trying to make it easier for people to put their record aside and be able to have productive lives within their communities,” said Manning.

A person is prohibited from applying to expunge six types of offenses: traffic offenses, violent felony offenses, sex-related offenses for people still on the sex offender registry, offenses related to crimes involving victims under 13-years-old, first- and second-degree felonies, and domestic violence or violation of a protection order.

Supporters of the bill emphasized in House and Senate committee hearings that expungement would not be automatic. The bill allows for prosecutors and victims to object to an application. The court must hold a hearing on that request within 90 days.

The bill went through several revisions throughout the committee process in the Senate and House. It began as a comprehensive piece of legislation to address many of the issues brought up from criminal justice reform advocates in recent years.

In the final week of the lame-duck session, legislators attached other measures to the bill. It now includes a provision that makes holding a phone while driving — when not up to one's ear — a primary offense. Under the bill, fentanyl testing strips would not longer be considered drug paraphernalia.

The House passed SB288 — with the many amendments — by a vote of 79 to 9. The Senate concurred with the changes 29 to 1. The bill now goes to Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, for his signature or veto.

Contact Andy at achow@statehousenews.org.