By Guy Page
It makes you wonder — did the employer of the pickup truck driver who killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire last weekend know about his history of drug and alcohol abuse? And that makes you wonder some more — now that drug possession and some DUI charges can be expunged from Vermont criminal records, how can Vermont employers avoid hiring people with these prior criminal records?
The short answer is they can’t. H.460, enacted into law this year as Act 32, allows Vermonters convicted of most drug possession and some DUI crimes to ask the court to “expunge” their records. If the court grants the petition, for all employment and legal purposes the crime never happened. H.460 supporters say that’s the point: employers and landlords are unfairly punishing people who committed these crimes by refusing them jobs and housing. H.460 sets things right for both the offenders and an economy that needs workers, they say.
Yet employers’ and landlords’ concerns were scarcely mentioned in documents and testimony submitted to the House Judiciary Committee before it approved H.460. In fact there is no direct testimony from anyone representing employers or landlords. Only in a couple of pro-expungement academic studies are these issues even raised. The allegedly low recidivism rate of criminals with expunged records, says a 2019 University of Michigan study, “defuses the most common policy argument against expungement laws: that the public (including employers and landlords) has a safety interest in knowing about the prior records of those with whom they interact.”
In other words, employers need not be concerned that a new van driver may have a DUI or a drug possession conviction. Not to worry: Academic research shows they have no “safety interest in knowing,” however loudly their common sense may shout otherwise.
Vermont Judiciary estimates expungement will cost $269,000 this year and $348,000 in 2020 in state revenue. If just 1-3% of the estimated 41,776 convictions are subject to expungement petitions, the state of Vermont will need to hire at least five temporary workers to handle the backlog. Supporters say the hoped-for economic payback of more working, productive Vermonters will more than compensate for the spending.
But that’s a “big picture” solution to the perceived problem that criminals are victims of societal oppression. Meanwhile, what about the employer whose livelihood and peace of mind would be destroyed if the next multiple fatal accident is caused by one of his drivers? What about the landlady who discovers drug deals are happening on her premises?
Don’t they and the other people in and around their vehicles, workplaces and apartment buildings deserve protection, too?
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.