Let’s act on CORI bill now

Last week, as the end of the formal legislative session on Beacon Hill drew to a close, a measure to reform the state’s criminal records law was advanced by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. There have been a number of proposals to revamp the law, but the State House News Service reports that the principal proposal filed by Governor Patrick languishes in the House-dominated Judiciary Committee.

Last Wednesday, the state Senate passed an omnibus crime bill that includes long-needed reform to the state’s CORI procedures, and softens mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders and mandates post-release supervision for some prisoners, the news service reported.

Senator Jack Hart, who helped write the legislation, said the package has drawn wide support from law enforcement officials throughout the state.

“The new legislation places a premium on unprecedented mandatory post-release supervision, as well as electronic monitoring programs, all of which are proven to reduce recidivism.,” Hart said . “CORI reform is a tough conversation because passion lies on both sides of the argument as evidenced by the Senate debate. However I feel this bill strikes the right balance between empowering employers to make informed decisions and providing a support system for the re-entry of offenders into society. I am proud of the result.”
Hart’s office released a statement detailing the Senate bill:

• An increased access to the CORI system, allowing employers and landlords to request records on felony convictions for 10 years after an inmate’s release and on misdemeanor convictions for 5 years after release, as well as all pending charges;

• Information on all convictions for sex offenses, murder, and manslaughter will be available for life. Law enforcement continues to have full access to CORI. Improved accuracy and faster response times are achieved through a new Internet-based system.

Although the bill has now cleared the Senate, it still must be taken up in the House of Representatives. In that chamber, several versions of CORI reform measures have been proposed, and under the rules, the House leadership says it has finished its formal sessions for the year. Unfortunately, that means CORI reform likely won’t be taken up again until after the new year begins.

There remain two ways the House could move ahead with the reform: either by scheduling a vote during the “informal” sessions that remain, or by agreeing to come back for one or more full formal meetings before Christmas. Advocates for reform say they would like an even stronger bill than that approved last week in the Senate. But more debate will mean more delay in the needed reform. CORI reform has come a long way- the Legislature needs to get it done soon.