Could State Legislature Pass Bill Helping Former Felons Go Back to Work?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston-based attorney and former state legislator would like the House of Delegates to pass a bill that helps ex-convicts with non-violent pasts better able to find gainful employment.

“This is something that they did when they are 18, 19, 20 years old, and they’re having to pay for it for the rest of their life,” Rusty Webb said on the MetroNews-affiliated “The Mike Queen Show” on the AJR News Network. “And what that does is it basically forces them to do illegal things to earn money because they can’t earn money legitimately by having a job.”

In the past, there have been court cases in the United States exploring whether certain businesses have “blanket discriminatory practices” against former felons.

Webb is concerned that large numbers of West Virginians seeking work are being disqualified due to criminal histories.

“What I’d love to do in Charleston is have a job fair,” he said. “And I thought–no, nobody would pass anything. We need to have an expungement fair in Charleston or Huntington or any city that needs it.”

Webb said expunging records for ex-convicts with non-violent pasts would be one step the Legislature could take to help increase employment in the Mountain State.

“30 years later, I can’t get a job because of that,” he said. “That’s what these expungements are all about. You’ve paid for your crime. You shouldn’t have to pay for it the rest of your life by being punished by not being able to get a job.”

Though Delegate John B. McCuskey (R, Kanawha – 35) signed on as a sponsor, Webb said without bi-partisan support he doesn’t see the bill going anywhere.

“These are two liberal Democrats who are proposing it, and this is a very conservative Republican legislature,” Webb said. “So it’s chances of seeing the light of day are slim. And that’s why I’m disappointed that a Republican didn’t sign on.”

H.B. 2604 is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.