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Local News -

June 9, 2009

Drug laws worry lawmakers

A state law that took effect Monday allows some convicted felons to have criminal records hidden from prospective employers, including school districts, day-care centers and nursing homes.

The measure, passed with the adoption of the state budget, allows nonviolent drug offenders to have one felony and three misdemeanor convictions from a list of 26 charges sealed. Under the new rules, a judge may seal the records after a defendant completes drug-court intervention.

The eligible convictions include drug sale and possession charges, as well as burglary and grand larceny charges.

"I don't understand it," Otsego County District John Muehl said Monday. "A criminal record is a criminal record. When you are an adult and you go out and commit crimes against others, I don't see any reason why you should have the benefit of having your conviction sealed."

Muehl said young offenders were already able to apply for youthful-offender status and have their records sealed.

The new measure is part of a sweeping reform of the Rockefeller drug laws passed in 1973.

A day before it went into effect, Oneonta City School District Superintendent Michael Shea said he had not heard of the provision.

"It seems there was very little, if any, public discussion about this," Shea said.

Sen. James L. Seward, R-Oneonta, and Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, are co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the provision, which Bonacic dubs the "Drug Dealers Protection Act" in a media release.

"This change defies all common sense because it would effectively wipe the slate clean for drug dealers who undergo criminal background checks when seeking employment in certain positions," Seward said last week. "This means convicted drug dealers could be taking care of children at a day-care center or as a nanny, teaching at a school, or working at a nursing home or some other position of trust."

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