Controversial Clean Slate Act Passed By New York Legislature

In a marathon session that stretched into the late hours of Friday night, both houses of the state Legislature in New York voted to pass the long-debated Clean Slate Act, a bill that would automatically seal most criminal records. 

As lawmakers push through the weekend to conclude their business for the year, the legislation awaits the signature of Governor Kathy Hochul to become law.

Under the proposed legislation pushed by Democrats, conviction records of New Yorkers would be expunged three years after sentencing for misdemeanors. The time is expanded to eight years for felonies excluding “Class A” felonies such as murder, kidnapping and terrorism. Crimes in those categories would not be eligible for sealing.

Supporters of the bill, which covers drug-related felonies, claim it is necessary to assist individuals with criminal records in reintegrating into society after completing their sentences. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-NY) stated, “This bill enhances justice, which is the true source of public safety in our state.”

However, there are concerns that the legislation will compromise the safety of New Yorkers. Rep. Michael Tannousis (R-NY) emphasized the dangers it poses, saying, “This is simply an attempt to mislead potential employers, landlords, and the general public about a person’s history.”

“When a defendant is in court and decides to either plea bargain their case or take their case to trial, they do so with the understanding that the charge will appear on the person’s record,” he added.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) also struck down the bill in a tweet that pointed out the skyrocketing crime rate in New York. “The Clean Slate Act is a disaster for New York,” she wrote, echoing the sentiments of people who believe the act will only work to make the streets of New York less safe.

While the bill awaits the final decision of Governor Hochul, her stance on the matter is yet to be disclosed. 

In other legislative matters on Friday, a bill to establish a commission tasked with studying reparations for Black people was passed. Additionally, lawmakers successfully passed a bill designating Diwali, a major Hindu religious festival, as a New York City school holiday. They also approved a statewide holiday for Lunar New Year, a celebration observed in January or February.

However, a proposal to allow New York City to lower speed limits to 20 m.p.h. remained stalled in the state Assembly on Saturday, despite receiving approval from the state Senate.