Legislation that would allow some first-time, low-level offenders to seal their criminal backgrounds has made it through the Texas Senate.

Also known as the "second chances" bill, House Bill 3016 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would make it easier for people to apply for jobs if they have a low-level offense on their record and have demonstrated that they won't reoffend. Those applicants would not be required to disclose their offenses. 

Senate sponsor Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, added a floor amendment to the bill to clarify that people whose crime had a sexual and violent component would not be eligible for nondisclosure. The amendment "underscores the intent of the bill," which "is a result of negotiations for a lot of groups that span the political gamut," the senator said.

Last week, Thompson told The Texas Tribune that low-level offenders shouldn't have to face punishment beyond the penalties assessed in court.

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"If we are going to require a person to be penalized for a mistake they have made, once that penalty is over with, they have fulfilled the obligations of that penalty," Thompson said Thursday. "They ought to be given an opportunity to make a living. They ought to be given an opportunity to have a place to live."

Former Gov. Rick Perry recently supported the bill in a Houston Chronicle op-ed.

"The bill still allows law enforcement to use the crime just like any other conviction should there be a subsequent offense," Perry said. "This is a smart, balanced, conservative approach to tackle the major issue of trying to find steady housing and a job with a criminal record."

The bill overwhelmingly passed in the House, where it will return for consideration again before it can head to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Rick Perry threw his support behind bills to reform criminal justice in Texas.
  • A bill aimed granting more defendants release from jail without paying bail would require judges to use a risk assessment system before making bail decisions — and to make those decisions within 48 hours of an arrest.
  • Critics say civil asset forfeiture deprives citizens of property without due process. Law enforcement officials say they are stopping crime.
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