Governor Deal signed SB 365 on April 13th. The new laws eliminate the automatic suspension of drivers’ licenses for some drug offenses, create a Certificate of Program and Treatment Completion to demonstrate an individual’s positive steps toward reentry, and protect employers that hire people with either the Certificate of Program and Treatment Completion or a pardon.
Governor Deal signed HB 845 on April 24th. The new Law prohibits the online posting of booking photos (mug shots) as well as the release of these photos by law enforcement to any entity that will charge for removal. As you may already know, many for profit websites publish booking photos obtained from arresting agencies. Most advertise that they will remove a photo for a fee, but even after the fee(s) are paid, the photos may continue to appear online – often on another website owned by the same company. Under the new law it will be more difficult for these companies to access and publish booking photos.
Governor Deal has committed to add Georgia to the twelve states and more than 60 municipalities that have enacted the fair hiring policy known as “ban the box.” Currently, the fourth question on the state employment application asks about the applicant’s criminal history. Soon, by executive order, Governor Nathan Deal is going to improve the state’s hiring process for applicants with criminal records and remove the question about criminal history to a later stage in the process.
The new hiring policy will not affect whether applicants for state employment will be asked about their criminal history, just when and how. The question will not be asked until the applicant has proven they are one of the best candidates for the position. Applicants, under the policy, will also have the opportunity to explain any criminal history before they are denied.
Employment of people with criminal records is a key component of the Governor’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform’s recommendations on reentry. One of the Council’s goals was to make sure that people whose records have been officially restricted and sealed can get jobs without consumer reporting agencies reporting these records to employers. As you may recall, this was originally included in the version of SB365 that passed in the Senate, but was later deleted by a House subcommittee when there was pressure from companies like Equifax and LexisNexis.
Over the next several months, GJP will work closely with the Council of Criminal Justice Reform, the Governor’s office and private background checking companies to identify viable options that will improve the accuracy and fairness of private company reporting.
A key obstacle for people with felony convictions in Georgia is establishing for others (e.g., prospective employers, landlords, lenders, and schools) that their sentences have been officially completed and they are no longer under correctional control. At least eight states (VA, NM, AZ, SD, NV, MI, WA, CA) currently provide official documentation to individuals who complete their sentence to assist with securing employment, housing and other opportunities that are necessary to lead productive lives. Georgia should join these states and create a sentence completion certificate for people who have fully paid their debt to society.
The First Offender Act, known as Georgia’s “second chance law,” was first enacted in 1968 and is supposed to allow certain first-time offenders to avoid a conviction and a public record of the case as well as prohibit employment discrimination based on the case if they successfully complete their sentence. In reality, however, first offenders do not get this second chance because, even after completion of the sentence, the records are reported by private companies then use the information to deny employment. Georgia should restore the intent of the First Offender Act and ensure a real second chance to first offenders by prohibiting the reporting of these records by private companies and strengthening the employment discrimination protection for successful first offenders.
Individuals who are pardoned by the state should not suffer a lifetime of punishment for their offense(s). Pardoned people should be able to move on with their lives and access jobs, housing and other opportunities in Georgia. Though a notation is placed on the individual’s criminal history, a pardon is of little value because its issuance neither restricts (expunges) the record, nor protects against employment, housing or other type of discrimination. Most employers and others do not place much value on a pardon because they are unsure of the expectation from the state. Georgia should protect those with pardons from being unreasonably denied opportunities based on their pardoned offense(s).
Thank you for all you did in the 2014 session to improve reentry in Georgia! It is important that the members of the General Assembly know that while SB 365 and HB 845 were positive steps, there is still more work to be done.
If you haven’t already done so, please call or email your representative and senator and thank them for supporting SB 365 and HB 845. Also share with them that people with criminal records in Georgia will continue to face significant barriers to employment and that more should be done. Let them know specifically that private background reporting is a real issue and it needs to be addressed.
Your ongoing participation has been central to our success and we appreciate it.
Thanks for your support,
Marissa McCall Dodson,
GJP Policy Director