There are two bills in Olympia that recognize that it’s not always in the state’s interest to keep felonies on people’s criminal records. First one that would let members of tribes with fishing rights vacate convictions for fishing off reservation before 1975 (Yakima Herald link). Since they have had their rights recognized for decades now, it makes sense to vacate the convictions of the people who made that possible. Also they had the right to fish there, even if the state didn’t always recognize it. Fortunately, that’s another lopsided vote.
House Bill 2080, which passed by a vote of 92-6, would allow those tribal members to apply to the sentencing court to expunge their misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony convictions. Family members and tribal officials could also seek a vacated criminal record on behalf of a deceased person. The court would have the discretion to vacate the conviction, unless certain conditions apply, such as if the person was convicted for a violent crime or crime against a person.
“We have a responsibility to try and make things right,” said the bill’s prime sponsor Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma. “It simply allows tribal members to apply to have those convictions vacated so they can live their lives in dignity. It’s essentially an apology as well.”
Tribal members and others were roughed up, harassed and arrested in the 1960s and 1970s while asserting their right to fish for salmon off-reservation under treaties signed with the federal government more than 100 years before. At the time, however, those acts violated Washington state regulations, and there were raids by game wardens and other clashes with police. The Northwest fish-ins known as the “Fish Wars” were modeled after civil rights movement sit-ins and were part of larger demonstrations to assert American Indian rights nationwide.
The other thing is a bill to allow prostitutes to clear their convictions stemming from prostitution if they were a result of. This story is a bit sensationalist, and probably makes some generalizations about why people become prostitutes that aren’t great. Not every prostitute is a victim or trying to leave, but this bill is still a good thing.
This session, Washington lawmakers hope to support victims by expanding a law to allow survivors of sex trafficking to clear their records of multiple prostitution convictions. A current law, passed two years ago, only allows for removing one conviction.
The new bill continues the state’s role as a leader in legislation to combat trafficking. So far, only about a dozen states have similar laws on the books. The latest legislative effort also continues a national trend toward taking a “victim-centered” approach to prostitution.
“The reality is that individuals engaged in prostitution are often caught and arrested and prosecuted multiple times over their time in ‘the life,’” said King County’s Senior Deputy Prosecutor Val Richey, who works exclusively on human trafficking cases. “Allowing them to remove those convictions because they were obtained as result of engaging in prostitution through force or coercion makes a lot of sense, whether it’s one conviction or two or three.”
Richey said he hopes the bill expansion passes through the state Senate. An identical expansion to the bill passed the House last year but got stalled in the mostly Republican-controlled Senate. This year the bill’s sponsor said it has a better chance because a compromise is being sorted out.
In both cases it shows the legislature, or at least some members, see the limits of the criminal justice system. That in those instances, people having a criminal record is worse than the thing that we’re trying to prevent by convicting people and giving them those records in the first place.