Clean Slate Act

Published on March 22nd, 2023

Memorandum of Concern

Re: S211-A Myrie / A1029-A Cruz
In relation to the Clean Slate Act

The above-referenced legislation would seal most misdemeanor and felony convictions following a waiting period and subject to certain conditions. While the NYS Catholic Conference is generally supportive of measures to give people convicted of crimes a second chance following the conclusion of their sentence, this bill has one critical flaw in that it would make it impossible for many organizations that work with children or vulnerable adults to adequately assess whether someone who wants to work or volunteer in one of their programs can safely be around children.

Following the sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the Catholic Church and other organizations two decades ago, the Church has become a leader in the protection of children. Anyone who wants to work or volunteer in our schools, CYO programs, youth ministry programs, summer camps or any other program that involves children or vulnerable adults must complete a criminal background check and sexual abuse awareness training. These policies have been instrumental in protecting the most vulnerable among us, as well as reassuring parents that our programs are safe. The results speak for themselves, as our programs are now among the safest places for children.

Absent amendment, this legislation threatens that success, thereby putting children needlessly at risk. We have proposed amendment language that would allow organizations that work with children to access relevant criminal conviction records for a very limited purpose. The current language only allows for entities that are required by state or federal law to request and receive a fingerprint-based background check to access those conviction records. That does not apply to independent and religious schools, as well as many religious and secular charities that serve children. Consequently, there will be two sets of standards, one for public schools and certain programs, and one for private and religious schools and charities. If sponsors recognize there is a need to protect some children impacted by this bill, then clearly there is an obligation to protect all.

Ignoring this grave flaw would result in children and vulnerable adults being less safe and could lead to a tragic outcome. We appreciate that the sponsors have made numerous amendments to the original legislation over the last two years; however, this specific serious concern continues to be unaddressed. We strongly encourage the sponsors to further amend the bill to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults.