NJ Lawmakers Send Expungement Overhaul Bills to Christie

Sandra Cunningham. Max Pizarro for Observer

New Jersey lawmakers passed a three-bill package Thursday to make it easier for criminal records to be expunged, sending the legislation to Gov. Chris Christie, who has pledged to sign the measures into law.

The bills that passed the state Senate and Assembly would increase the number of convictions that can be expunged, reduce the waiting period to expunge a juvenile record and prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants who have expunged records.

“A minor criminal offense should not lead to a lifetime of punishment,” Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), who crafted the bills with Christie, said in a statement. “These bills are about removing barriers for residents and helping them to overcome the obstacles that exist in finding employment, taking care of their families and setting their lives on the right path. These bills are a great step to providing offenders with the second chance they deserve.”

One bill (A5036/S3306) would strengthen the state’s so-called “ban-the-box” law, which currently bars employers from asking applicants whether they have criminal records. The legislation — which passed the Senate 29-6 and the Assembly 42-17 – would amend that law to prohibit employers from asking about expunged records, too.

A second bill (A5037/S3308) reduces the waiting period to expunge a juvenile record from five to three years. The measure passed 37-0 in the Senate and 62-0 in the Assembly.

The last bill (A5038/S3307) increases the number of offenses a person can expunge from three to four and reduces the expungement eligibility waiting period from 10 years to six years, among other changes. The bill passed 26-8 in the Senate and 61-1 in the Assembly.

Christie said Wednesday that enacting the expungement legislation was one of his top remaining priorities before leaving office on Jan. 16, calling the bills something “we care deeply about.”

“I think it’s another important step in our criminal justice reform program that has been judged by almost every objective observer as being groundbreaking for the country,” Christie said during an unrelated news conference. “I think adding these expungement pieces will be very good for that as well.”

Thursday was a busy day in the state house, with lawmakers approving dozens of bills and nominations for boards and judgeships.

The Legislature also sent a bill (S862) to Christie that would dedicate 1 percent of the tax revenue generated from sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products to anti-smoking initiatives. Lawmakers estimate that could generate more than $6 million annually for such programs but divert them from the state’s General Fund.

A similar bill was conditionally vetoed by Christie last year because it would have gone into effect immediately and diverted money that had already been appropriated for fiscal year 2018. Under the new version of the bill, the program would be implemented in fiscal year 2019. The bill passed the Senate 39-0 on Thursday and had already been approved by the Assembly.

Lawmakers took a step toward banning drunken drone flying. By a 37-0 vote, the Senate approved a bill (S3370) that would impose a range of restrictions on operating drones, barring residents from using the robots to harm humans or snatch up animals. Flying drones while drunk or on drugs would be made illegal. Violating the rules would be a disorderly persons offense, punishable with up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. An identical bill (A5205) in the Assembly cleared a committee on Monday.

The Senate confirmed the nomination of Anne Marie Bramnick — Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick’s daughter-in-law — for a Superior Court judgeship. Outgoing Sen. Colin Bell’s wife, Sarah Beth Johnson, was also confirmed to be a Superior Court judge. Christie spokesman Brian Murray’s wife, Joan Bedrin Murray, was appointed to the state tax court.

Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Kevin McCabe was appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And the Senate confirmed the nomination of outgoing Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) for a spot on Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield’s board of directors.

NJ Lawmakers Send Expungement Overhaul Bills to Christie