On May 6, 2021, Badger Institute Policy Analyst Julie Grace testified in favor of 2021 SB 78 before the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
Read a transcript of Julie's testimony below.
Read more about 2021 SB 78 here.
Senator Wanggaard and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for allowing me to testify today in support of Senate Bill 78, which would make long-overdue reforms to Wisconsin’s expungement law, including allowing judges to rule on expungement eligibility after the completion of a sentence, removing the arbitrary age restriction and ensuring that expunged crimes are not considered convictions for employment purposes.
The Badger Institute surveyed Wisconsin voters on this topic a few weeks ago and found that nearly three-quarters of Wisconsin voters support reforming the state’s expungement law to allow a judge to grant an expungement after completion of a sentence. Support for that change extends across party lines, with 77% of Republicans, 69% of Independents and 70% of Democrats supporting the reform.
Majorities of conservative voters in Wisconsin also support this change, including 75% of voters who self-identify as “very conservative,” 72% of 2020 Trump voters and 79% of strong Republicans. More information on the results of this survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, is available on our website, BadgerInstitute.org.
Wisconsinites support this change because it simply makes sense. Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that requires a judge to rule on an expungement application at the time of sentencing when very little information is known about an offender’s likelihood of rehabilitation. Changing the timing of that decision will allow judges to make better-informed decisions and will incentivize good behavior on the part of offenders.
We also recently conducted research to determine who would benefit from removal of the arbitrary age restriction. The answer, overwhelmingly, is those who never committed more than a misdemeanor. We found that of the people 25 or older with no prior felonies who would be eligible for an expungement, 87% of them were convicted of no higher than a misdemeanor. More than 6,600 were given only a forfeiture, meaning they were never convicted of a criminal offense.
Those who would benefit from this legislation are not violent offenders, who would remain ineligible for an expungement. Instead, they’re people like Ryann Barnes, who I recently wrote about and who is testifying here today. They are Wisconsinites who never committed a violent offense, have no prior felonies and either did not seek an expungement at their sentencing hearing or were 25 or older when the offense occurred. They’re people who have moved on and become productive members of society but often find their efforts to secure employment, housing and education hampered by a low-level conviction.
The Badger Institute – and nearly three-fourths of Wisconsin voters – support SB 78. I am willing to answer any questions you have.