CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates passed an amended version of a Senate bill Friday evening aimed at allowing people to petition a nonviolent felony to a misdemeanor.
The revised Senate Bill 76 — the West Virginia Second Chance Act — would give a person the opportunity to petition a circuit court to have the offense lowered if they can prove 10 years of good behavior. The court will have deciding power over whether to approve the request.
House Judiciary Chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said while serving on the advisory board for Recovery Point Four Seasons in Bluefield, he had the chance to listen to drug addicts talk about their experience applying for jobs.
“That light of hope is diminished when that fear that that felony conviction that brought them to Recovery Point will be a cloud over their shoulders forever,” he said. “It makes it very difficult for them to get their lives back together and get back on track.”
A person would be eligible to petition the circuit court of the crime’s location.
The passed Senate version of the bill has limitations on what crimes would be eligible to be petitioned; felony crimes involving minors, offenses involving a deadly weapon or driving under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substance could not be petitioned.
The House of Delegates approved a House Judiciary Committee amendment increasing the number of crimes that would be excluded from petitioning. This includes sexual offenses, crimes involving serious physical injury and domestic assault.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, argued against the amendment, saying people need to have more opportunities for a second chance.
“In the Old Testament, it was every seven years, debts will be forgiven regardless of circumstance,” Sponaugle said, referencing the civil laws noted in the Book of Deuteronomy.
“If it was good enough for the Lord in the Old Testament, it ought to be good enough for the state of West Virginia with the burdens we put on folks.”
Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, supported the amendment, saying it was a step in the right direction.
“The alternatives would be no bill at all or to have full expulsion,” she said.
The chamber rejected an amendment earlier in the evening that would have limited petitioning to only people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.
The altered legislation will return to the Senate for a vote.