CORI reform passes!!

08/04/2010 § Leave a comment

we passed CORI reform last saturday night!  despite having bills passed through both chambers, it ended up being a nail biter until the end.  final enactment votes took place between 10-11pm, with only 1 hour left in the 09-10 legislative session.

i guess im still in shock.  after 5 years of dogged organizing, im just impossibly grateful that we pulled it off.  its particularly real to celebrate this with folks who ive been working with since the start of BWA.  our people faced CORI discrimination and volunteered for years to fight for something that people told us was impossible.  well in 2 days, we’ll be with governor patrick as he signs the bill into law 2 blocks from our office in grove hall.

ill look forward to spreading the word about our policy changes.  massachusetts is now the first state in the country to “ban the box” ie removing the criminal history question from initial job applications.  we helped pioneer this policy at the municipal level in 2005 and got it for all public state jobs in 2008 through executive order.  in the meantime, dozens of cities including san francisco, chicago, st paul / minneapolis, dallas have followed suit.  in the last year, minnesota and new mexico also banned the box for state public job applications.  but as with many model laws, MA pushed it a step further again, expanding the policy to all public and private employers across the state.  excitingly, we were the ones pushing Massachusetts.

anyway, this post is more of a place holder till i have some time to breathe and reflect.  heres a coalition press release for some context.

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Press Release (8/1/10)

Massachusetts legislature approves historic changes to criminal record laws

On the last day of the 2009-10 formal session, the Massachusetts state legislature gave final approval to an overhaul of the state’s criminal background check system. Intended to improve access to jobs, housing and other vital services for those with arrest records, reforming the Criminal Offender Record Information—known as CORI— has been an area of interest by community and labor organizations for nearly a decade.

First introduced as a state legislative proposal in 2005, a broad array of stakeholders including major law enforcement and business associations has since joined efforts to update the laws. Motivated by the budgetary and public safety consequences of leaving ex-offenders unable to work, CORI reform gained bi-partisan support in the legislature as a “smart on crime” measure.

For members of the statewide Commonwealth CORI Coalition, the reforms are the fruits of a relentless campaign led by those suffering under the current CORI regime.

“When you’re trying to support your family, get your life on track, and be a role model, you can only have the door slammed in your face so many times,” Steve O’Neil, Executive Director of Ex-prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement (EPOCA). “We’ve been educating people across the state for over 6 years—even in a 5-day walk from Worcester to Boston—exposing CORI as an arcane and counterproductive system.”

CORI reform has long been a rallying cry on Beacon Hill, with advocates regularly bringing hundreds of supporters to rallies and lobby days to push changes. In 2007, Boston Workers Alliance organized thousands to march from Roxbury to the State House for CORI reform, in one of the state’s largest grassroots mobilizations in the last decade.  This spring, members of the Black Ministerial Alliance held a 40-day fast for CORI reform during lent season.

Despite dramatic actions and apparent political consensus, a CORI bill remained elusive even into the last hours of formal session. Reportedly caught in the political impasse of expanded gambling proposals, final enactment votes only moved until after Speaker DeLeo and 100 legislators dared the Governor in a forceful press conference to veto their gaming bill. But by 11pm, CORI cleared both chambers, and the legislature sent a comprehensive bill to the governor’s desk to sign within 10 days.

As a crowd of overjoyed supporters flooded into the State House hallways, Boston Workers’ Alliance member Cheryl Jefferson embraced her colleagues. “I’ve been waiting so long for this. This gives me a chance to support my daughter and myself and move on with our lives.”

In an emotional scene, lead House sponsor Representative Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) congratulated advocates for the hard fought victory. “These reforms are the product of your work. You’ve told your stories, put your sweat and tears into bringing my colleagues around, and I thank you!”

Coalition leader Aaron Tanaka, Executive Director of Boston Workers’ Alliance, recognized Conference Committee chairs Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty and Senator Cynthia Creem for the significance of the final bill. “These laws will not only give second chances to hundreds of thousands of residents across the state, it is also a national

precedent setting reform. Massachusetts will become the first state in the country to ban the criminal history box from initial application forms so job seekers can have a fair shot at being considered before having to divulge the nature of a past offense.”

Speaking from the House floor, Representative Eugene O’Flaherty also highlighted reductions in the waiting period to seal criminal offenses as a critical aspect of CORI reforms. Felony offenses could be closed after 10 years and misdemeanors after 5. The reduction of 5 years from current law would not apply to sex offenses or cases of homicide.

Wilnelia Rivera, Neighbor to Neighbor campaigns director and Commonwealth CORI Coalition chair applauded legislative leadership as well as Governor Patrick for his realization of a central campaign goal.  “Governor Patrick helped set the tone for the passage of these reforms. Along side the leadership of Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Murray, Judiciary Chairs Representative O’Flaherty, and Chairwoman Senator Creem, and our legislative champions Representative Malia and Senator Chandler were able to shepherd this highly anticipated policy victory for the residents of the Commonwealth.”

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