by LAURA HUDSON || There appears to be a resolve among some members of our General Assembly to undermine the rule of law in South Carolina and potentially, your safety. It sure seems to a casual observer that honesty and integrity are character traits that hold no value anymore.
Let me explain: A new law (Act 254, which is former House Bill 3209) that will go into effect at the end of this year – despite the veto of our Governor Henry McMaster – hides the public criminal records of some offenders from the public, from future employers, and from all other law-abiding citizens.
This new law even goes so far as allowing criminals to hide felony drug possession with intent to distribute convictions of any drug (marijuana, meth, heroin, crack, cocaine, opiates, etc., which are Class C Felonies that impose a 20-year sentence) and authorizes the criminal to lie about this conviction.
When the new law goes into effect, women who are trying to protect themselves from domestic violence offenders, offenders who have been charged and convicted of assault & battery, fraud or a myriad of other offenses that are usually heard in magistrates’ court will not be able to research a potential partner, house cleaner, lawn service or other potential hires’ criminal records. That new neighbor who just moved into your community now has no public criminal record for you to check. That new neighbor may have been convicted for possession with intent to distribute meth, heroin, cocaine or any other drug.
So much for the safety of your community.
The proponents’ rationale is to give a “second chance” to offenders so that they can find employment, a laudable goal. However, for years, business owners have been hiring convicted offenders who completed their sentences for years with the full knowledge of the offenses for which their worker was convicted. Now, both employers and communities are deprived of the ability to be informed of the criminal histories of individuals caring for our children, the aged, the vulnerable, those operating cash registers, installing alarm systems, cleaning our homes, maintaining our lawns, installing heating and air-conditioning systems, controlling pests in our homes, serving our food, delivering items to our home and businesses, working in arcades, public parks, and on and on. When you put it in this context, the pie-in-the-sky idea of a “second chance” pales in comparison to the harm this new law does.
Rather than afford businesses the ability to make informed decisions about potential employees or even incentivizing businesses to give “second chances,” this law simply dupes the employer and allows the potential employee to lie about past transgressions. This law also de-incentivizes employers from checking into criminal pasts. This new law protects these owners from any liability if that convicted felon who was hired by a construction or remodeling company comes back and robs you, the home owner. So long as the employer can say, “I didn’t know that offender had this conviction,” they are not responsible and cannot be held liable.
We should not be rewarding lax background checks, which is exactly what this law does. The real problem here is that we are now sanctioning employees to lie. We are authorizing a potential employee to apply for a job, lie on the application stating that he or she has never been arrested or convicted of a crime (when in fact he or she may have been both), and to lie straight to the interviewer’s face when asked that same question in person. We are telling these individuals that here is your “second chance,” all you have to do is forego your integrity and honesty.
Increasing jobs in South Carolina and putting people to work is commendable and should remain a focus of the South Carolina legislature. Lying is not the answer.
Laura Hudson is the executive director of the South Carolina Crime Victims’ Council (SCCVC), the chief nonprofit organization in South Carolina advocating the development of crime victims’ rights and services.
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