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New Senate bill tackles expungement accessibility 

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state’s expungement process could become more accessible for petitioners and legal aid organizations through a bill pre-filed by Sen. Brian Williams this week. 

Williams, who represents part of St. Louis County, filed a bill to lower expungement petition fees from $250 to $100 and give judges the authority to waive fees if the individual is unable to pay or is found indigent. The legislation would also give legal aid organizations and pro-bono clinics access to petitioners’ criminal history through the Missouri Central Repository. 

“Our district is unique: We have over 30 municipalities so to have to go to each one to try and trace any lingering records can be a daunting task,” Robert Arbuthnot, Williams’ chief of staff, told The Missouri Times. “If we can have all of this in a central repository, people who are working on expungements could also donate there and pull that information and have it, because if you show up at an expungement clinic and you don’t know where all your records are, it’s a complicated process.”

Williams, a Democrat, has sponsored similar packages over the past two sessions. While neither made it to the floor for debate, he was successful on one expungement measure earlier this year. 

A bipartisan criminal justice package co-sponsored by Williams included a provision reducing the time limitations for petitioners to apply for expungement, decreasing the waiting period for felony convictions from seven to three years and misdemeanors from three years to one. 

With more individuals now able to apply for expungement, Arbuthnot said the latest changes would be crucial to address the influx of petitioners.

“The changes we made this year in reducing the time someone had to wait before they could be eligible for expungement opened up eligibility to more people,” Arbuthnot said. “If people could have access to all of that in one place, it would simplify the process. We also want to reduce that fee to make it more accessible.”

Next year’s bill would also remove mortgage fraud, forgery, and defrauding secured creditors from the list of offenses ineligible for expungement. 

Similar changes to the bevy of offenses ineligible for expungement have been enacted in recent years. Property damage, stealing, and fraudulent use of a credit or debit card were removed from the list through legislation passed in 2019

Williams’ bill would also remove a cap on expungements. Currently, individuals are allowed no more than two expungements for a misdemeanor or one for felony offenses. 

Wednesday was the first day to pre-file bills for next year. The 2022 legislative session begins on Jan. 5.