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Talking Points

Biz groups push back on Mass. criminal justice bill

Senator Will Brownsberger has worked for the past year on criminal justice legislation, with a goal of ensuring convicts get a fair shot at a new life.
Senator Will Brownsberger has worked for the past year on criminal justice legislation, with a goal of ensuring convicts get a fair shot at a new life.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

No one said reforming the state’s criminal justice system would be easy.

Senator Will Brownsberger has worked for the past year on criminal justice legislation, with a goal of ensuring convicts get a fair shot at a new life. Brownsberger learned firsthand during his time as a defense attorney just how hard it can be for people to get back on their feet after they get entangled in the court system.

But his wide-ranging overhaul package, which has the Senate leadership’s support, is raising concerns among some business leaders. One big reason: the bill would make it harder for employers to delve into the criminal histories of potential hires.

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Records of felonies could be sealed after seven years, instead of 10, under Brownsberger’s bill. Misdemeanors, meanwhile, would be sealed after three years, instead of today’s five-year period.

Those changes are just two of the bill’s provisions opposed by Associated Industries of Massachusetts. AIM argues that job candidates are less successful in achieving gainful employment when employers have less information, and that background checks help ensure workplace safety and are needed for many companies to comply with state and federal rules.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts also isn’t happy. These checks, RAM says, help merchants protect customers’ credit and debit card transactions.

Now, we wait for the more conservative House. Speaker Bob DeLeo is working with former Supreme Judicial Court chief Roderick Ireland to craft a parallel bill. The differences probably will be hashed out in conference committee negotiations — but not before the business groups can air their concerns.


Jon Chesto can be reached jon.chesto@globe.com and on Twitter @jonchesto.