Many first-time drug offenders could have their criminal records erased under a bill awaiting consideration in the S.C. House of Representatives.
People convicted of a first drug possession charge would be eligible for a process known as expungement if they avoid any subsequent convictions for three years, according to the bill. The measure may come up for a floor vote in the House next week.
Those under a certain age, as high as 25 in some cases, who are convicted of crimes such as second-degree burglary or third-degree sexual misconduct, would be eligible for expungement provided they have a clean record for five years. People convicted of third-degree domestic violence would also be eligible for expungement after a five-year period without any additional convictions.
Those convicted of violent crimes and serious theft-related offenses would not be eligible for expungement.
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The legislation is a priority of business groups, including the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the Upstate Chamber Coalition.
The state chamber negotiated the bill's provisions with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which originally had reservations about the measure.
"We believe that many offenders ought to have a second chance," said Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the state chamber.
He said the bill also will help address the need for more workers throughout the state.
Douglas Wright, chief executive officer of Senior Solutions in Anderson, said many of his agency's prospective employees must undergo criminal background checks. As a result, he said, applicants with prior convictions cannot be hired.
The expungement bill "would be very good for us," Wright said.
Rep. Gary Clary, a Republican from Clemson, voted for the bill when it was approved earlier this week by the House Judiciary Committee. He said he believes there is broad support for the measure in the House.
Clary said the legislation will aid first-time offenders who often have a hard time finding employment.
"Going through the expungement process will allow them to a job," he said.