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Sen. Jamin B. ‘Jamie’ Raskin, D-Montgomery (File photo)

For Second Chance Act, backers hope 4th time will be the charm

ANNAPOLIS — Community leaders are battling retailers and landlords over legislation that would permit individuals to seek court orders shielding from public view certain minor crimes they had committed three or five years earlier, including disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, trespassing and theft of less than $1,000.

Under the proposed Second Chance Act, a shielded conviction would not be considered a conviction, thus enabling those individuals to honestly tell prospective employers and landlords that they have not been convicted of a crime. However, law enforcement agencies and companies hiring for positions requiring criminal background checks either by statute or contract would have access to the shielded records.

The community chiefs, including Baltimore’s mayor and state’s attorney, say the shielding provisions are needed to help perpetrators of the nonviolent misdemeanors, who have served their sentences, get jobs and housing and not become repeat criminals.

But representatives of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Maryland Retailers Association and the Maryland Multi-Housing Association Inc. counter that having access to criminal records remains necessary to prevent theft.

The Second Chance Act itself is receiving a fourth chance, having died without final votes in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, the bill’s Senate sponsor voiced confidence that it will be enacted this year and remove “this scarlet letter” of misdemeanor conviction from the resumes of many Marylanders.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake offered her support in written testimony to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which was hearing Senate Bill 526 on Thursday evening.

“Criminal records for minor offenses, often committed during periods of youthful indiscretion, act as a barrier to mobility by limiting job and career prospects,” Rawlings-Blake wrote. “Shielding of past convictions for minor crimes addresses the undue hardship caused by past offenses and expands the workforce and educational opportunities available to residents whose criminal records would exclude them.”

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, in written testimony supporting the bill, said that shielding minor-crime convictions permits employment and thereby prevents recidivism.

“A criminal record significantly reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly 50 percent; that rate is even higher for African American men,” Mosby wrote. “It is time Maryland joins the over 30 states that limit public access to criminal records in order to mitigate collateral consequences.”

Angela D. Alsobrooks, Prince George’s County state’s attorney, said the bill “would allow people who have made a mistake to be given a second chance to gain employment and become a productive, law-abiding citizen, making a positive impact in our community.”

But the Maryland Chamber of Commerce said the bill “will prevent businesses from obtaining criminal conviction information necessary to evaluate the suitability of applicants for employment, promotion or transfer.”

The Second Chance Act would enable shielding of offenses “relevant to businesses’ hiring decisions, such as disturbing the peace, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, malicious destruction of property, misdemeanor theft … and offenses that involve fraud and dishonesty,” the chamber stated in written testimony. “The passage of a period of time without a conviction in Maryland does not necessarily indicate lack of criminal activity. Many people engage in subsequent offenses without arrest or conviction.”

The Maryland Retailers Association said it is “concerned that the shielding of misdemeanor records would hamper a retailer’s due diligence in the hiring of employees for sensitive areas.”

“Jewelers would be particularly vulnerable to persons convicted of theft of less than $1,000 without the ability to know of the conviction,” MRA added in its testimony to the Senate committee.

The Maryland Multi-Housing Association said landlords rely on criminal background checks on would-be tenants and employees. The Second Chance Act would “allow ex-offenders, albeit of misdemeanor offenses, to deceive their potential employers or their potential landlords,” the association stated.

The Maryland Court Appointed Special Advocates Association, which represents advocates for abused or neglected children in court, stated it has “serious concerns” about the measure because it would prevent full criminal background checks of its prospective volunteers. The group urged the committee to add an amendment that would permit shielded records to be seen by “entities that utilize volunteers who care for, supervise, or otherwise have access to children.”

“Without this information, our ability to fully screen volunteer applicants and protect the children we serve is significantly compromised,” the association stated in its written testimony to the committee.

The crimes that could be shielded after three years under the legislation are disorderly conduct; disturbing the peace; failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order; malicious destruction of property under $500; trespass on posted property; obtaining property or services with a bad check under $500; possessing or administering a controlled dangerous substance; use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia; driving without a license; driving while privilege is canceled, suspended, revoked or refused; driving while uninsured; and prostitution.

A conviction for misdemeanor theft could be shielded after five years for misdemeanor theft under $1,000;

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, is sponsoring the cross-filed House bill, HB 244.