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Legislature overrides bill to expunge low-level criminal records

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The state Legislature on Wednesday evening overrode Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a bill designed to expunge criminal records. Supporters of the new law say it will provide a boost to a shrinking labor pool and improve employment chances for South Carolinians released from prison.

The bill had received bipartisan support in the Legislature and was supported by business organizations such as the Greenville Chamber. In vetoing the bill, the governor said he supported second chances for people who have served time for low-level, nonviolent crimes, but he defended the right of employers to know about those criminal behaviors of the past.

“Second chances should be freely given when individuals have paid their debt to society; however, forgiveness should be informed by fact and should not be forced upon unwitting participants and prospective employers,” he said in a letter to the state House of Representatives. “Therefore, I am unwilling to sign legislation that would have the practical effect of erasing large categories of criminal records and telling employers what they can and cannot consider when making critical hiring decisions.”

Greenville Chamber President and CEO Carlos Phillips has been a champion for the bill.

“Overriding the governor’s recent veto of H. 3209, the jobs bill that garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in the S.C. House and Senate, would expand South Carolina’s workforce, make our state more economically competitive and continue our economic prosperity, while providing second chance opportunities to thousands of our citizens,” he said Wednesday before the successful override. “This bill would allow thousands of S.C. citizens who have been convicted of many low-level nonviolent felony offenses to have their offenses removed from their respective criminal records, thus removing a key barrier to securing gainful employment for those who want to be productive and contributing citizens.”

With unemployment rates lower than 3% in parts of the state, great unemployment numbers are becoming a little too good for many employers who are finding it increasingly difficult to hire qualified workers.

“South Carolina must grow its workforce if our state is to experience continued economic growth and prosperity,” said Phillips.

“Simple mistakes, including low-level nonviolent offenses, should not result in lifelong sentences,” he said. “People who have paid their debt to society deserve the second chance to take care of their families and pursue their career and professional goals.”

Reach Ross Norton at 864-720-1222.

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