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Aiming to give offenders a second chance, North Dakota House passes pair of record-sealing bills

The North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. Photo illustration by Troy Becker

BISMARCK — The North Dakota House passed a pair of bills allowing for sealing criminal records of DUIs and other offenses Wednesday, Feb. 13, in what lawmakers pitched as an effort to give offenders a second chance in society.

House Bill 1256 would allow offenders to petition a court to seal their record after staying out of trouble for a few years. The bill's primary sponsor, Fargo Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, said she intended for the bill to only apply to non-violent and non-sexual offenses.

The petitioner would have to show “good cause,” and a judge would have to consider the severity of the crime, the petitioner’s rehabilitation and victims’ recommendations, among other factors.

The bill passed in a 78-13 vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Fargo Democratic Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, who carried the bill on the floor, said law enforcement and courts would still have access to a person’s complete criminal history. But the records wouldn’t appear in background checks for “typical employment” and private housing applications, she said.

“And improving a person’s chance to have a paycheck and a stable place to live means we increase the chances that they won’t reoffend,” Hanson said.

House Bill 1334, which passed in a 89-2 vote and will also travel across the hall to the Senate, would require the state’s courts to seal drunk driving records if the offender doesn’t commit another criminal offense for seven years. It doesn’t apply to licensed commercial drivers or to a prosecutor’s access to prior offenses for enhancing penalties for motorists who rack up multiple DUIs.

The votes came a few weeks after House lawmakers agreed to prevent public employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history until they have been selected for an interview, another effort aimed at helping those with a criminal past get back on their feet.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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