Legislature(2017 - 2018)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
03/21/2018 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
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SB 184-ACCESS TO MARIJUANA CONVICTION RECORDS 1:32:07 PM CHAIR COGHILL announced the consideration of SB 184 and stated his intention to hear an introduction and take questions. 1:33:03 PM SENATOR TOM BEGICH, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of SB 184, stated that the bill is the result of meetings in his district on public safety that occurred last September. He continued the introduction speaking to the following sponsor statement: Senate Bill 184 would make confidential the records of individuals who have been convicted of minor marijuana crimes, and no other crime. In 2014, Alaskans voted to legalize the cultivation, sales, and possession of marijuana for those 21 years old or older. This legislation led to a robust and growing marijuana industry, but some Alaskans remain blocked from employment and housing by previous marijuana possession. According to a report by Legislative Research, between 2007 and 2017 there were more than 700 Alaskans convicted of low level marijuana crimes. Those convictions can make obtaining housing and gainful employment challenging, even though marijuana possession would not be a crime today. Further, Senate Bill 184 would prevent the State from asking if someone has been convicted of a felony on a job application, with an exclusion for any position related to the criminal justice field. This type of 'ban the box' legislation has been shown to reduce barriers to gainful, fulltime employment, amongst the most important factors in reducing recidivism. Now that voters have legalized marijuana, this legislation would allow those previously convicted to move on with their lives, while ensuring those in the criminal justice field still have access to needed background information. SENATOR BEGICH pointed out that entities would not be prohibited from investigating an applicant. 1:34:37 PM SENATOR KELLY joined the committee. 1:36:09 PM SYDNEY LIENEMANN, PhD., Staff, Senator Tom Begich, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, delivered the following sectional analysis for SB 184: Section 1: Describes the legislative intent to reduce barriers to re-entry for those convicted of low-level marijuana possession, which would no longer be considered crimes today. Section 2: Prohibits the Department of Public Safety, and any designated reporting agency, from disclosing any criminal records associated with possession of less than one ounce of a schedule VIA controlled substance conviction, covering both State Statute and municipal ordinance. These cases will be protected from disclosure only if marijuana possession is the only crime for which the person was convicted in a particular criminal case. A schedule VIA controlled substance considered to have the lowest degree of danger to users. Marijuana is the only VIA drug. Section 3: Makes Alaska Court System's records of criminal cases involving convictions for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana confidential. Those cases would not be available on Court View. Section 4: Limits a State agency's ability to ask a job applicant if they have been convicted of a crime. This section makes an exception for any position associated with the criminal justice field. Section 5: Indirectly amends Alaska Court System Rules of Administration by making certain cases confidential. Section 6: Because Section 5 indirectly amends a court rule, this legislation will require a two-thirds vote as described by the Alaska Constitution. Section 7: Provides 120 days for this legislation to take effect after bill signing, giving the Courts as well as affected agencies time to change their reporting protocols. 1:37:49 PM SENATOR BEGICH advised that he and his staff have worked with the Department of Law and the Court System, and they participated in the Criminal Justice working groups that looked at barriers to reentry and explored issues ranging from expungement to confidentiality of records. He noted that at least nine other states have passed legislation like SB 184 proposes. At least 30 other states have laws with some element of expungement. He offered to provide that information to the committee. CHAIR COGHILL offered his understanding that in this instance confidentiality makes these cases unavailable on CourtView, but it does not expunge the record. SENATOR BEGICH agreed that the record is not eliminated; it would still be searchable by law enforcement and other entities. 1:38:52 PM SENATOR SHOWER asked if a private investigator could access the record on CourtView. SENATOR BEGICH said his understanding is that the entity could do a background search, but the record would not be available on CourtView. He deferred further explanation to Dr. Lienemann. DR. LIENEMANN advised that those records would be available for a more detailed background check, but someone who is doing a Google search would not find those records. CHAIR COGHILL asked what a "ban the box" application would look like. SENATOR BEGICH clarified that the "ban the box" would only apply to state agency applications, not private entities. The box and direction to check the box if the applicant has convictions of minor marijuana crimes would not appear on state applications. He reiterated that this would not stop an employer from doing necessary background checks. The idea is to keep state hiring managers from tossing an application that indicates a prior marijuana conviction that is no longer against the law. CHAIR COGHILL said the Criminal Justice Commission has debated the issue and that is the positive aspect. The negative is that more agencies might require background checks. SENATOR SHOWER asked for clarification. The third paragraph of the sponsor statement talks about a felony conviction, but the bill doesn't specifically mention that. 1:42:16 PM SENATOR BEGICH referenced Senator Coghill's last comment and advised that the Department of Administration issued a zero fiscal note indicating that the bill would not increase costs. He deferred Senator Shower's question to Dr. Lienemann. DR. LIENEMANN advised that the bill says a person convicted of any crime, not just a felony. CHAIR COGHILL asked if the bill has generated any opposition. SENATOR BEGICH said he hasn't heard any opposition but there have been questions requesting assurance that the bill would not place public safety at risk. The intent is to offer people who have prior low-level marijuana convictions an opportunity to be considered fairly in the job market. The bill does not ask for expungement. CHAIR COGHILL asked how many Alaskans have a record of a VIA controlled substance conviction. SENATOR BEGICH said the research his office asked for shows that there were 721 convictions going back to 2007. 1:45:12 PM CHAIR COGHILL thanked the sponsor and his staff for presenting the bill. He said he would be in touch when it would be heard again. SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI noted that the Court System submitted a zero fiscal note and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) indicated it would need additional staff to go through the records. He expressed interest in the difference in procedure to make these records confidential between the two agencies. SENATOR BEGICH deferred the explanation to the departments. 1:46:41 PM KATHRYN MONFREDA, Chief, Criminal Records and Identification Bureau, Department of Public Safety, Anchorage, Alaska, advised that each of the more than 11,000 entries in the criminal history system for AS 11.71.060 would need review to make sure the conviction was for possession of less than an ounce of the schedule VI substance. That is the reason for the DPS fiscal note. SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI commented that it seems odd that the fiscal impacts are so different. CHAIR COGHILL said his understanding is the Court System would simply block the information. They would probably depend on DPS to identify the individuals. 1:48:10 PM CHAIR COGHILL stated that he would hold SB 184 for future consideration.