Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.

These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.

Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.

About the bill

For a person convicted of a crime the consequences do not end once the debt to society has been paid and their sentence is served.

From housing to employment, from education to community involvement the collateral consequences can last a lifetime.

For example, a person convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana, which is graded as a low-level misdemeanor and almost never carries a prison or probation sentence in Cumberland County, can be barred from federal student loans.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Bucks County, has introduced a bill aimed to limit the collateral consequences and help people move on once their debt is paid.

“In Pennsylvania, expungement is severely limited and the Board of Pardons has a backlog of applications that takes many years to resolve,” Greenleaf wrote in a co-sponsorship letter. “Many of these applicants are nonviolent offenders who wish to erase a foolish mistake from their youth in order to become a teacher, nurse or other professional.”

Senate Bill 855 would require the Administrative Offices of Pennsylvania Courts to create an inventory of collateral consequences associated with convictions similar to one created by the American Bar Association.

The bill would require that defendants be informed of, and understand, the collateral consequences at the time of a guilty plea and at sentencing.

State and local government employers would be barred from denying a person employment or professional licensure based solely on a criminal conviction, while allowing the employer to weigh the circumstances and facts around the conviction when making an employment decision.

Greenleaf’s bill would also allow people who have remained offense free for at least five years to request relief from the courts from one or more collateral consequences.

“States that have enacted mechanisms to avoid collateral consequences have seen significant reductions in recidivism,” Greenleaf wrote. “The national average rate of recidivism is 49.7 percent. After Ohio enacted a law to provide a pathway back to employment for those with criminal convictions, the rate of recidivism in Ohio dropped to 27.1 percent.”

Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.

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