California would have what proponents call the nation’s most sweeping law to seal criminal records if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation sent to him last week by legislators, the Associated Press reports. The bill would automatically seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentences and any parole or probation. Records of arrests that don’t lead to convictions also would be sealed. The law would take effect in July, and it excludes those convicted of serious and violent felonies, and felonies requiring sex offender registration. Proponents say about eight million Californians have a criminal or arrest record, about one of every five state residents. A criminal record can trigger nearly 5,000 legal restrictions in California, many of which can limit job opportunities as well as the ability to get housing and educational opportunities.
An estimated 70 million people nationwide face nearly 50,000 legal restrictions based on a criminal or arrest record. Nationwide, 37 states and more than 150 cities have adopted laws preventing employers from asking candidates about their criminal histories prior to a job offer, according to the National Employment Law Project. The California law would go further by automatically sealing convictions for people who meet certain conditions. While the bill would not apply to serious or violent felonies, California has a narrow legal definition of violent crimes. The bill would apply to offenses like domestic violence, said Republican Sen. Shannon Grove, who joined all Republicans in the Senate and one Democrat in voting against the bill Thursday.