Energy & Environment

After years of pushing, the Clean Slate Act becomes law

Business leaders, union organizers and law enforcement all attended the bill signing in Brooklyn.

From left, Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Gov. Kathy Hochul.

From left, Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Gov. Kathy Hochul. Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act into law in Brooklyn on Thursday, officially bringing to a successful close a yearslong push for the legislation. She was joined by law enforcement and business leaders, focusing on equal parts the criminal justice, public safety and economic parts of the bill. 

Kicking off both her speech and the bill signing event, Hochul touted the public safety and jobs benefits of the legislation, which will seal most misdemeanor records three years after release from incarceration and most felony records after eight years. “My No. 1 job as the New York state governor is to keep people safe,” Hochul said at the very beginning of her remarks. “And I believe that the anti-crime tool we have is a job. When people have steady work, they’re less likely to commit crimes and less likely to be homeless.” She then brought up the labor shortage facing the state currently. “I have 460,000 jobs that are unfilled today – our employers are begging for workers,” Hochul said. 

Proponents of the Clean Slate Act, which does not apply to Class A felonies and sex crimes, have said that criminal records have prevented many people from finding gainful employment, even years or decades after completing their sentences. The new law, which takes effect in one year, would seal those records so long as people don’t reoffend, meaning that past offenses would not come up in most criminal background checks by employers. It would also mean that they won’t need to disclose their records after sealing. 

When asked about the impending Clean Slate signing last week, Hochul said she heard calls from business leaders asking her to sign the bill. A number of business groups big and small – and even major corporations like Verizon – have come out in favor of the legislation, which shields them from liability related to hiring formerly incarcerated people. “It was the inclusion of business over the last couple of years in thinking about how to make a law that works for everybody,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the business group Partnership for New York City, on Wednesday. “Because this isn’t the end of the game, it’s the beginning – employers now have to step up and employ.”

The speaking lineup also included Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who said the bill “strikes the right balance” between public safety and rehabilitation efforts. “I want to say thank you to all of you for engaging with my office… on this legislation, and listening to the concerns raised by law enforcement and the city’s district attorneys,” Gonzalez said. Under the law, police and prosecutors will still have access to criminal records, as will the state Education Department.

Although the bill had widespread support from unions, business groups and criminal justice advocates alike, it has faced opposition from Republicans, who have tied it to other criminal justice reform measures like bail reform that have been unpopular in parts of swing suburbs. “As public safety remains on the mind of every New Yorker, Governor Hochul has signed another bill that continues the alarming trend of disastrous criminal justice ‘reforms’ that have made our communities less safe,” state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said in a statement. “There should be no question in the minds of New Yorkers: Albany Democrats will always prioritize criminals over victims and law-abiding citizens.” Although bill sponsors state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz heavily focused their remarks on the justice aspect of the legislation, the inclusion of law enforcement and business voices seem to be an attempt to downplay attacks like Ortt’s. Crime played a significant role in the 2022 congressional elections that Republicans won in New York, and it once again seemed to influence Republican victories on Long Island this year.

After the event, Hochul confirmed that she did not include any chapter amendments to the Clean Slate Act, and that she is signing into law exactly what passed the Legislature in June. However, she confirmed that the final version came about thanks to negotiations she had with legislative leaders earlier in the year and represents compromises both she and lawmakers agreed to.