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A bill that gives convicted criminals a second chance

Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers approved House Bill 3016, popularly known as the "second chances" bill. It recently went into effect, and already numerous individuals are seeking to take advantage of its benefits.

As reported in the Texas Tribune, the bill makes it easier for certain individuals with criminal records to apply for jobs. Specifically, people who have been convicted of low-level, nonviolent crimes are now eligible to petition to have their criminal records sealed. What this means is that prospective employers, when running background checks, will not have access to the applicant's criminal history.

The bill has certain safeguards to protect the populace, however. Namely, if an individual with a sealed record commits a subsequent crime, the record will effectively be un-sealed, and previous offenses will be taken into consideration during sentencing.

How this bill can help Texans, and Texas's economy

The bill had broad bipartisan support, and was passed without much dissent. Many lawmakers view it as an important corrective to Texas's unusually harsh justice system. A criminal record is a major impediment for individuals seeking suitable employment and housing; state senators and representatives alike recognize that individuals should not face interminable punishment for minor crimes.

"If we are going to require a person to be penalized for a mistake they have made," said Representative Senfronia Thompson, "once that penalty is over with...they ought to be given an opportunity to make a living. They ought to be given an opportunity to have a place to live."

Can DWI offenders have their records sealed?

In an earlier post, we noted that HB 3016 could be particularly helpful to DWI offenders. Simply put, many individuals convicted of DWI have had a rough time getting their lives back on track. Under the new law, DWI offenders can petition for a court order of nondisclosure so long as their blood alcohol content (BAC) was .14 or less at the time of their infraction and no injuries or serious collisions were involved. In some cases, agreeing to have an ignition interlock device installed in one's car can expedite the petitioning process.

Texas is not typically lenient with criminal offenders. For years, being convicted of even a minor infraction could upend one's life. HB 3016 is a potent means to make our justice system a little more just.

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