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Support SB 1056 & HB 1166: Second Chance Act

Senate Judicial Proceedings & House Judiciary Committees

The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington. We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 1056.

Senate Bill 1056 offers individuals who have incurred minor infractions in their past an important opportunity to start out with a clean record as they seek employment. The measure would do so by allowing individuals who meet strict criteria to shield certain offenses from being viewed on their criminal history by many prospective employers.

The Catholic Church in Maryland offers many social service and employment assistance programs, through which we frequently work with individuals who face significant obstacles to obtaining a job because they do not have a completely clear criminal record. For those struggling to escape poverty and to earn an honest day's wage to support themselves and their families, being turned down for a job simply because of a small mistake in the past is a discouraging, unfair, and unproductive punishment.

We recognize the legitimate need of employers to be aware of serious crimes that a prospective employee may have committed in order to maintain a safe work environment. The crimes eligible for shielding as proposed in SB 1056, however, are limited to less serious offenses. Further, the bill would only allow individuals to shield certain infractions if they have had a completely clear record for three years or more. We believe the bill strikes a reasonable balance between the safety needs of employers, and the fair treatment of individuals who deserve the chance to obtain a job and lead productive lives. This goal is in line with Catholic teaching on the dignity of the person, promoting the common good, and building a just community.

Our support of this bill is contingent upon the fact that SB 1056 includes a critically important exception for child-serving institutions that are required or allowed under Maryland law to perform criminal background checks on prospective employees or volunteers. The Catholic Church in Maryland observes strict child protection policies in our institutions, which include performing mandatory background checks on all employees and volunteers who work with children, even when we are not required to do so by law. Currently background checks are obtained through fingerprinting for employees, while checks for volunteers who have substantial contact with children are performed through online criminal history background searches.

We believe obtaining a complete criminal history background on all employees who work with children is an essential component to ensuring a safe environment for children in our institutions, and are only able to offer our support for this legislation because we are assured that our ability to do so would not be impacted by its implementation. Likewise, while we would no longer be able to obtain shielded information online about volunteers, the legislation would still allow our institutions to obtain a full criminal background on a volunteer through a fingerprint check when deemed necessary. Our support is contingent on our continuing to have access to shielded records when we deem it appropriate, and on the bill not being expanded to include shielding of more serious crimes.

SB 1056 reflects the culmination of many years of effort to maintain reasonable standards of safety for employers, while still achieving the laudable goal of giving deserving individuals a second chance to prove themselves worthy of obtaining a job and becoming a contributing member of society. As noted by the Maryland bishops in their recent statement on the Dignity of Work, "As the state's largest private social service provider, we witness in our Catholic ministries the painful reality of those who struggle to keep up with the basic costs of food, rent, utilities and transportation. This desperate cycle cannot end unless we as a society find a way to give all capable men and women the chance to work at a job through which they can live with true independence and dignity." For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on SB 1056.