People do change. We need to give them the opportunity to come back and be productive citizens. – Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House on Friday passed a bill that would make it easier for convicted drug criminals to clean their records and become productive members of society.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said he worked with law enforcement officials and the board of pardons to draft HB33, which streamlines the expungement process and broadens the number and types of crimes that can be wiped from an individual's public record.

Hutchings said the current process is costly, time-consuming and offers little hope to reformed substance abusers trying to put their lives back together after an offense.

"There's no light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "You can never, ever get back on track. You can not get your life back to normal."

Hutchings said his bill applies to drug possession and other drug-related offenses. To qualify for engagement, individuals must complete the terms of their sentence and show convincing evidence that they are free of illegal substance abuse and successfully managing any substance addiction, he said.

Responding to a question from one of his colleagues, Hutchings said an expunged conviction would not appear on public background checks, such as those used in housing and employment, but would remain on criminal records used by the courts and law enforcement personnel.

He said a key motivation in presenting the bill was the difficulty individuals convicted of drug crimes have in gaining employment, but those crimes would still count against them in the event of repeat offenses.

"Law enforcement will still have all of that, so we know who you are, we know where you've been, we know what you've done," Hutchings said.

The bill passed the House with a 72-0 vote after a relatively brief discussion during which each representative who commented on the bill spoke in favor of its terms.

"People do change. We need to give them the opportunity to come back and be productive citizens," said Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan.

Benjamin Wood