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New law gives 2nd chance to workers with criminal records

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Minnesota has a new law that aims to help the state's job seekers who have a record of minor crimes.

The measure changes Minnesota's "expungement law."

It used to be that state law allowed judges to expunge, or seal, criminal records of certain offenders, with the goal being that a worker who had paid their debt for a crime would have a clean slate with would-be employers.

But because of a state Supreme Court decision in May 2013, judges could expunge only court records, not those collected by the state’s executive branch – a loophole, in effect, that lawmakers have now tried to fix, the Star Tribune notes.

“Look at the person. Get to know them. Take the time to see who this person really is and whether he or she has demonstrated that they’re turning their lives around,” Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters Wednesday after signing the measure into law.

Advocates and workers with criminal records had told lawmakers that records of relatively minor offenses had thwarted their attempts to be thriving members of society.

"I understand people need to be held accountable and sometimes can't hold certain jobs," Katie Tourand, of Burnsville, who had two relatively minor convictions in her past, told reporters Wednesday. "What I don't understand is the perpetual punishment I've had to endure after close to a decade of being crime free and proving myself."

Roughly one in four Minnesotans has some sort of criminal record, but most of them have never spent time in prison, the Star Tribune noted. For some, after they have paid their debt for their crimes, the real punishment – the sigma of the record – has been the worse punishment.

It's not easy to get an expungement, the Star Tribune notes. Serious criminal offenders convicted of crimes like murder, drunken driving and sex crimes cannot be expunged. Minor crimes are expunged only if offenders demonstrate that rehabilitation has made it unlikely that they would re-offend.

The new law clarifies that if a person could be eligible for expungement of a minor crime if he or she successfully completes a diversion program and is not charged with a new crime for at least two years, the Pioneer Press notes.

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