CORI Bill Stalls in House Ways and Means Advocates Vow Rematch
BOSTON/Beacon Hill - The hopes of advocates for the passage of a criminal justice bill (House Bill 5004 "An Act to Improve Certain Criminal Justice Matters") that would have reformed the controversial Criminal Records Information System were dashed this week when the House Ways and Means Committee failed to report the bill out favorably for a vote on the House floor. With the current 2 year session of the Massachusetts legislature now essentially over, the bill will have to be refiled for the next session later this year.
"We're obviously disappointed that we weren't able to pass a bill this session, but we consider getting the ban the box proposal into the bill a major step forward," said Aaron Tanaka of the pro-CORI reform organization Boston Workers Alliance in reference to the section of the bill that would end the standard employer practice of putting a check-off box on employment applications asking applicants if they have ever committed a crime.
The main CORI reform provision of the bill would have reduced the time former criminals would have to wait to have their criminal records sealed from 15 years after time served for felony convictions to 10 years, and from 10 years for misdemeanor convictions to 5 years.
Tanaka continued, "We should be a stronger position to pass a better bill in the next session. What we found is that there's strong support for CORI reform on both sides of the chamber the issue that ended up derailing the bill was the mandatory parole supervision that was included in the criminal justice package"
According to advocates, the bill was primarily defeated by wrangling between the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee State Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea) - who attempted to add a "poison pill" provision to the bill that would have mandated that all criminals incarcerated for 1 year or more would have to complete parole for the greater of 9 months or 25% of time served - and House and Senate bill supporters who pointed out that adding such a provision would essentially defeat the purpose of the CORI reform provisions of the bill since recidivism rates are much higher for former criminals on parole than off.
Despite strong support for the CORI provisions in both the House and Senate, and a nod from Governor Deval Patrick, O'Flaherty and his legislative allies were able to derail the bill before it got to a House vote.
In addition to the legislative opponents there were also some powerful organizational detractors of the bill, notably the state's main business lobby, Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
AIM's executive vice-president for government affairs, John R. Regan, released a letter to area press last week expressing employer concerns that passage of CORI reforms would weaken employers ability to know about the criminal histories of job applicants.
In a phone interview, Regan elaborated, "It's not a secret that we had concerns with the bill. I would state that there were things we did support. Steps to make sure data in the system was accurate. I understand the computer system they use to store this stuff is quite old. Upgrading the system, we'd support that. Increased training for employers on how to read the CORI reports - to make sure everyone is reading the reports correctly.
"The things we were concerned about include the sealing of records containing public information," Regan concluded. "And I think that related to that concern was making sure employers have sufficient info to make a well informed decision about any job candidate."
It is unclear if the two camps will come any closer to accord in the next session. But one thing is certain, the Boston Workers Alliance and other advocates for the rights of former criminals in the job market will be back for another go starting later this year.