Lawmakers consider destroying criminal records of human trafficking victims

It is virtually the same bill that nearly completed its legislative journey last session

Human trafficking

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – Deciding what kind of crimes victims of human trafficking should be able to have removed from their criminal record is still being debated at the Statehouse.

Victims can already expunge records for prostitution and a select few other crimes, but some lawmakers want to expand that list.

Expunging a record is tantamount to destroying it, and moving forward, it would be as if it never happened. This is very different than sealing the records, which is what some opponents of the proposed legislation would like to see happen instead.

State Representatives Jonathan Dever and Theresa Gavarone are spearheading the bill through the House.

It is virtually the same bill that nearly completed its legislative journey last session, only to die in the waning hours of the final day of the General Assembly.

“It was literally 2:30 in the morning the very last day of the general assembly and we were on the cutting room floor trying to work out some final discussions on language and what types of things should be sealable or expugnable and we just couldn’t reach an agreement,” said Dever.

He says that gave the bill a bit of a head start this session, but now he is experiencing déjà vu.

“The exact same arguments are taking place on what should be sealable, what should be expugnable,” said Dever.

One of those participating in the debate is State Representative Jim Butler. He was the chairman of the committee the bill went through the last session and now serves on the committee it is going through this session.

“This bill is a good bill with the right intent,” said Butler. “But I think it needs to strike the right balance between making sure that we are protecting victims of trafficking, while we also need to protect the public; because the public needs to know if there [are] certain crimes that are committed.”

But Gavarone says the victims need to be empowered once they escape from being trafficked.

“If we can, you know, expunge the record of certain crimes then they can go and apply for a job,” said Gavarone.

Having certain crimes hanging over their head and needing to be disclosed on job applications can make getting that job and moving on with their new life difficult.

Butler points out that the current expansion being asked for is broad and covers a variety of crimes that are not allowed to even be sealed but would be destroyed instead if the bill becomes law.

Some of those crimes involve sexual acts against minors.

Gavarone and Dever say there is still work to do on this bill and with the help of everyone involved they are trying to identify which criminal offenses should and should not be covered by the bill.

It also seeks to expunge the record of charges against victims of human trafficking in which they were found not guilty.

They hope to make adjustments to the bill in the coming weeks and would like to see it pass out of committee in early January.

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