The Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 397 on Wednesday with a bipartisan vote of 24-5, moving the simple but meaningful expungement reform bill forward to the Oregon House.
“Oregon’s expungement process should be efficient, equitable and allow people freedom from the stigma of a criminal record that no longer defines them,” said Babek Zolfaghari, a member of the Clean Slate Oregon coalition of organizations working in support of expungement reform. “We are thrilled that the Oregon Senate has made the right decision by passing Senate Bill 397, which would address barriers to records clearance and give Oregonians a fair opportunity to make a living, take care of their families and participate in their communities after serving their time.”
Nearly 1.5 million Oregonians suffer the far-reaching impacts of a criminal record, with the impacts falling disproportionately on low-income and Black and Latino communities, perpetuating poverty and racial inequity. SB 397 would update Oregon’s current expungement statute to be in line with best practices, giving people who have fulfilled their sentences better access to employment, housing, education and training opportunities.
Oregon’s current expungement statute is not aligned with best practices. The current statute makes people wait up to 20 years to expunge certain convictions — a timeframe that is far longer than national averages, and is out of step with public safety research. On top of a lengthy wait, the expungement process includes expensive fees that don’t take into account a person’s financial circumstances, meaning that low-income, and Black and Brown people are consistently unable to access the second chances that our expungement law should provide.
SB 397 would simplify and streamline the petition-based process; adjust waiting and look-back periods to match data and research guidelines; remove filing fees and standardizing the application form; and accelerate eligibility of non-conviction records (e.g., arrests, dismissals and acquittals). The bill also allows courts to consider the community’s interest in improving access to employment, housing and education.
Studies show that one year after a record has been cleared, people are 11% more likely to be employed and earn 22% higher wages. This means thriving families, safer communities and fewer taxpayer dollars spent on unemployment benefits and other public assistance.
“Even when people make mistakes, they deserve a second chance at freedom, opportunity, and a better future,” said Paul Solomon with Sponsors, Inc, a Clean Slate Oregon coalition member. “We urge the Oregon House to follow the Senate’s lead by passing SB 397 without delay.”