It came as a surprise to Democratic lawmakers in August when Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill they’d passed in June to expunge criminal records for low-level drug offenders.
The bill allowed nonviolent offenders to seek expungement through the courts if they maintained a clean record for 10 years after completing their sentence. It also would permit some marijuana-related expungements to be filed as little as 18 months after a sentence was completed, in certain circumstances.
But Murphy argued the bill didn’t go far enough and that there should be an automated expungement process that wouldn’t require a person to hire an attorney and go through the legal system, adding that minor pot-related offenses should be sealed immediately.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and the bill’s sponsor Sen. Sandra Cunningham expressed frustration with the conditional veto, saying they felt they presented a strong bill and that they would have been willing to compromise with the governor while writing the bill.
“I am surprised that he did because, as I said, it’s a great piece of legislation. However, you know, you take every opportunity you get to make something better and you can never be at the point where you don’t think it can possibly be better. So we decided just to jump right in and see what we can do to make it better so that we can all be happy about what we produce,” Cunningham said.
“I was extremely disappointed because we really felt that we put a bill forward that was a very good bill and would get as many people as possible to get their records expunged,” said Sweeney. “Now I’m not talking about violent crime. I’m talking about records that can be expunged now. But just to get people to get their expungements quicker. I really didn’t think it was necessary to do the conditional veto, but that’s not unusual here. We get a lot of bills conditionally vetoed. I’ve been complaining about this process for some time — air your concern prior and we’ll work with you. Afterwards, it’s frustrating.”
On Thursday, they offered a rewrite of the bill that they say builds on the proposal offered by the governor and will allow for the greatest number of offenders to expunge their criminal records. Sweeney said there will be a vote in the next Senate session.