On March 9, 2011, State Rep. Ed Brooks, the newly appointed Chair of the State of Wisconsin’s, Joint Legislative Council’s Special Committee on Review of Records Access of Circuit Court Documents (CCAP Committee) sent a memo to all members of the committee indicating that he had decided not to reconvene the committee for any additional meetings.
For the most part, landlords came out unscathed by the reccomendations of the CCAP committee. While the committee considered many issues — the most troublesome being limiting access to CCAP and removing records of evictions that resulted in a dismissal — the only issue that the committee is pursuing has to do with the ability of person to seek expungement of certain criminal records under certain situations.
It should be noted that while the committee voted to require that all persons whose CCAP records were accessed during a rental application check or or credit check be notified of this, the chairman of the CCAP committee rejected that suggestion and chose not to include it in the draft bill that was produced as a result of the committee’s work.
The proposed bill that was drafted as a result of the CCAP committee’s reccomendation, proposed or clarifies the following:
1. Defines what is means for a court to expunge a court record (i.e. yes, this does include removing any reference to the crime from CCAP)
2. Clarifies that an expunged record may not be considered for employment or housing matters.
3. States that a person may petition the circuit court at any time to expunge the following:
- any court record of a person who was under the age of 25 at the time the crime was committeed and who was found guilty of a forfeiture, misdemeanor, and certain (lessor) felonies, that are punishable by up to 6 years in prison.
- any court record of a person charged with an offense punishable by a forfeiture, misdemeanor, or felony in which all charges were dismissed or for which the defendant was acquitted AND the court determines that the person will benefit by the expungement and that society will not be harmed by the expungement.
So if this proposed bill is eventually passed, an individual who was convicted of a crime, and who meets the criteria for expungement, could have his/her criminal record expunged including its removal from CCAP. What does this mean for a landlord conducting a background check on that specific rental applicant? It means several things:
1. It means that the landlord would find no record of the applicant having ever been charged and convicted of crime x, y or z (or charged and acquitted or charged and the later dismissal of the case).
2. It means that even if the landlord somehow learned of the conviction (or acquitall or dismissal) and th elater expungement, the landlord could not use that information when making a decision on whether or not to rent to that individual.
3. It means that a landlord is precluded from inquiring as to the existence of any expunged record from a rental applicant whether tht be on the rental application itself or verbally when talking to the applicant.
So while the proposed bill, if passed as written, will make screening certain rental applicants more problematic, considering all of the items/issues that were up for discussion by the CCAP committee, landlords remained relatively unscathed. Now let’s hope that the Wisconsin Supreme Court stays out of the fray . . .