Senate passes "second chances" bill for nonviolent offenders

The Texas Senate has approved its version of House Bill 3016, which would make it easier for people to apply for jobs if they have low-level offenses on their records. Such applicants would not be required to disclose their offenses.

State Sen, Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is shown during a Texas Tribune event in 2012, when he was a member of the state House.
State Sen, Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is shown during a Texas Tribune event in 2012, when he was a member of the state House.  Bob Daemmrich

Legislation that would allow some first-time, low-level offenders to seal their criminal backgrounds has made it through the Texas Senate.

Also known as the "second chances" bill, House Bill 3016 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would make it easier for people to apply for jobs if they have a low-level offense on their record and have demonstrated that they won't reoffend. Those applicants would not be required to disclose their offenses. 

Senate sponsor Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, added a floor amendment to the bill to clarify that people whose crime had a sexual and violent component would not be eligible for nondisclosure. The amendment "underscores the intent of the bill," which "is a result of negotiations for a lot of groups that span the political gamut," the senator said.

Last week, Thompson told The Texas Tribune that low-level offenders shouldn't have to face punishment beyond the penalties assessed in court.

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"If we are going to require a person to be penalized for a mistake they have made, once that penalty is over with, they have fulfilled the obligations of that penalty," Thompson said Thursday. "They ought to be given an opportunity to make a living. They ought to be given an opportunity to have a place to live."

Former Gov. Rick Perry recently supported the bill in a Houston Chronicle op-ed.

"The bill still allows law enforcement to use the crime just like any other conviction should there be a subsequent offense," Perry said. "This is a smart, balanced, conservative approach to tackle the major issue of trying to find steady housing and a job with a criminal record."

The bill overwhelmingly passed in the House, where it will return for consideration again before it can head to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

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