A proposed law that has a few more steps yet toward victory would help Californians who've been arrested hide any trace of the incident from employers — as long as they weren't convicted.
The idea is that employers shouldn't preclude a large portion of the California population from getting a job just for being accused of something — often wrongfully — by police. In the legal system, an arrest can be a stab in the dark, and cases are often dropped or successfully defended at trial. But many employers still ask if job seekers have ever been arrested. And many use that information to exclude prospects.
SB 393 is the brainchild of state Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles. She cites a 2014 University of South Carolina study that found four out of 10 men and two of 10 women in the United States had been arrested before age 23.
"Arrests that do not lead to conviction can haunt people and show up years later in background checks that block them from finding a job or an apartment," Sen. Ricardo Lara, who's supporting the bill, said in a statement.
The legislation, part of Sacramento Democrats' "#EquityAndJustice" package of bills, recently was approved by the Assembly. Other bills in the package include reducing sentencing enhancements for nonviolent drug offenders and nixing court fees for suspects found innocent. SB 393 needs another nod from the Senate before it can head to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, a former Los Angeles Police Department assistant chief, is backing the bill, known as the CARE Act.
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"The presumption of innocence is a hallmark of the United States Constitution, yet people who are arrested and never convicted often face barriers to employment and housing," he said in a statement. "That’s unfair and unjust, but the CARE Act ensures that thousands of Californians will no longer wear the scarlet letter that comes with an arrest record."
The proposal doesn't exactly prevent potential employers from asking if applicants have been arrested. Nor does it strike arrests from Californians' records. What it does is create a "uniform legal process" so that it would be easier for folks to petition courts to seal arrest records.
The bill also seeks to ensure that "credit reporting agencies and the California Department of Justice do not disseminate sealed arrest information," according to a statement from Mitchell's office.
"Jobs are our No. 1 crime-fighting tool, and SB 393 will clear away barriers to employment for many arrested as young people who were found innocent or never tried," Mitchell said in the statement. "When 40 percent of young men are arrested before age 23, we need to do something to repair the damage an arrest without conviction can do."