'Game changing' bill passed to help more Missourians clear criminal records

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A Kansas City campaign to help hundreds of people clear their names of old criminal records got a “game changing” boost from Missouri lawmakers this week.

Senate Bill No. 1, expanding the number of crimes that are eligible to be expunged, passed through the Senate in the final week of the legislative session and now only needs Gov. Mike Parson’s signature to become law.

The bill was sponsored by Kansas City state Sen. Kiki Curls.

The news was hailed by volunteers in Kansas City who are working to help hundreds of people with old felonies and misdemeanors clear their records.

More than 800 people have contacted Kansas City’s expungement campaign hoping to clear their records, but frustrated volunteers know that many of them will not qualify for relief under Missouri law.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, Code for KC and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office joined in the campaign, gathering volunteer students, lawyers and others to help people navigate an otherwise expensive, complicated and time-consuming petition process.

Crimes under the SB 1 that would be added to those that people can seek to expunge include: property damage in the first degree, stealing, possession of a forging instrumentality, and fraudulent use of a credit device or debit device.

This is the most significant potential expansion of the law since lawmakers passed the Missouri Expungement Law that took effect in 2018.

The 2018 law made some 1,900 non-violent offenses eligible for expungement, as the state sought to provide relief to people who were having trouble getting good jobs or finding housing because of old criminal records often tied to long-ago drug offenses.

The law made great strides, but didn’t go far enough, UMKC law professor and Dean Emerita Ellen Suni said. But the addition of many stealing and forgery offenses to eligible crimes will help.

“This is really game changing for a lot of people who we have had to rule out up until now,” Suni said.

The social justice organization Empower Missouri also had been advocating for Sen. Curl’s bill that would help the expungement efforts going on in Kansas City and elsewhere.

“Thank you!” Empower Missouri Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford said in a letter to people who pressed lawmakers for support. “This allows returning citizens who have completed serving their sentence to have better access to employment, housing, and education programs.”

Violent crimes, including Class A felonies, are not eligible to be expunged. Neither are any crimes that required registration as a sex offender.

People with records can petition for expungement seven years after completing a sentence for a felony conviction or three years after completing a sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. Each individual can seek one felony expungement and upt

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