Clean-Slate Revamp, Felon Voting Rights Made Law in NJ

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill Wednesday morning to revamp the state’s system of expunging old criminal records, plus another that restores voting rights for those on parole or probation.

“This is a big one,” Murphy said at a press conference at One-Stop Career Center in Newark. “Today is a historic day for social justice.”

The bills, which passed in the state Senate on Monday, are part of Murphy calls his “second chance agenda.”

The new expungement law represents a total overhaul, complete with a new e-filing system, a clean-slate process and a $15 million budget to hire the workforce to do it. 

Murphy had originally vetoed the bill back in September, arguing that it did not go far enough.

The law now permits residents who have not committed an offense in 10 years to get a clean slate, while also sealing low-level marijuana convictions upon the disposition of a case. 

“I am proud that we are giving New Jersey one of the most progressive expungement systems,” Murphy said. 

New Jersey has one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the nation, putting nearly 1 million people behind bars for marijuana since 1990.  

Marijuana legalization is a longtime goal of Murphy’s, and the state Senate approved a referendum Monday that puts the issue on the ballot in 2020. 

The second bill signed into law Wednesday morning, which will go into effect in 90 days, will give thousands of residents on parole and probation the ability to vote. 

“We are allowing more than 80,000 people on probation or parole to walk into a voting booth and have a say in our democracy,” Murphy said. 

Until today, the state Constitution prohibited New Jersey residents convicted of an indictable offense from voting.  

New Jersey joins 16 other states and Washington, D.C., to restore voting rights to prisoners as soon as they are released. As Murphy noted, several of these states are red states, such as Montana and Indiana. 

“This should not be about one party or another, this is the right thing to do,” Murphy said. “Our democracy is stronger when more people can participate.” 

Murphy further noted that minorities in particular suffered under the old scheme, but that New Jersey is now on track to make up for past mistakes. 

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a 2020 presidential contender, praised the new laws. 

“Fixing our broken criminal justice system remains one of the most challenging issues plaguing our nation,” Booker said  in a press release. “These measures signed today by Governor Murphy will help restore fairness to the criminal justice system and remove some of the fundamental barriers to re-entry.” 

Amol Sinha, director of the New Jersey branch for the American Civil Liberties Union, also applauded the laws.

“With the governor’s signature, people who have been disenfranchised in every sense of the word regained the most fundamental power an individual can have in a democracy,” Sinha said in a press release. “Some rights are too important to lose, and voting is one of them.”

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