Cunningham criticizes Murphy after he conditionally vetoes marijuana expungement bill

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State Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31) criticized Gov. Phil Murphy (D) after he vetoed a bill that she co-sponsored that would have overhauled the state’s marijuana expungement system.

By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View

Murphy “applauded the sponsors’ commitment to social justice” but rejected the bill and instead offered specific recommendations to reform it, adding it “could go further” to “achieve its intended goals.”

Specifically, he cited Pennsylvania’s “Clean Slate Law” which established an automated computerized process to remove information related to convictions that are 10 years old and older.

“Accordingly, I am suggesting a number of amendments to this bill that would begin the process of instituting a similar system here in New Jersey,” he wrote in a 19-page conditional veto issued on Friday.

In response, Cunningham said in a statement that she was “disappointed” in the decision, and that the “proposed changes would significantly lessen the number of individuals who would be eligible for expungement.”

“If expungement is a good step toward responsible citizenship, then we should be broadening the opportunity for people to expunge their records and to rejoin the work force. There has to come a time when we understand the importance of permitting people to have a second chance.”

The senator also indicated that she has worked with “a broad array of civil rights advocates and law enforcement officials” to reform the state’s expungement laws in recent years, she said in her statement.

In 2016, then-Gov. Chris Christie (R) called Cunningham “a leader of political thought here in Hudson County” and said they had discussed potential expungement law reform.

gSince 1990, nearly 1 million people in New Jersey have been arrested on marijuana charges. The state has one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the country, according to NJ Advance Media.

The bill, originally introduced in November, was introduced in the lower house by Assembly members Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti (both D-31).

Murphy has previously supported expungement reform and said in a letter to the state senate exclaimed that “conviction for a minor, non-violent crime or offense should not have lifelong consequences.”

He also added that those who are convicted “may be denied employment opportunities, housing, education, professional licensure, and other benefits generally available to other members of the public.”

The governer further suggested that the bill as is would mean only “those individuals who actually apply for an expungement, meaning those who are aware of this potential remedy and have the wherewithal to navigate the legal process or afford an attorney to assist them, would be able to seek the relief afforded by the expungement process.”

“To avoid this shortcoming, we should follow the lead of Pennsylvania and undertake the necessary steps to establish an automated, computerized expungement system that would allow people … to clear their criminal histories without having to hire a lawyer or wade through a paperwork-intensive process.”

Neither Murphy or Cunningham’s offices could immediately be reached for further comment on Monday.

 

Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_