BISMARCK — A North Dakota lawmaker wants to give DUI offenders who stay out of trouble better odds of getting a job.
House Bill 1334, sponsored by Devils Lake Republican Rep. Dennis Johnson, requires North Dakota courts to seal records for people who haven’t been found guilty of a DUI or “any other criminal offense” within seven years of their first DUI violation. The bipartisan bill doesn’t apply to licensed commercial drivers.
The bill had its first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning, Feb. 5. The committee didn’t take immediate action on the legislation.
“All I’m trying to do is allow the young person who gets one DUI who has this cloud hanging over them for the rest of their life … and they can’t get a decent job after they graduate from college,” Johnson said.
There were 2,127 DUI convictions in North Dakota in the final six months of 2017, up from 1,909 in the first half of the year. But the rate was nearly twice as high before the Republican-led Legislature passed stronger DUI laws in 2013, according to the attorney general’s office.
Aaron Birst, who represents local prosecutors for the North Dakota Association of Counties, raised questions about whether the bill meant to affect the timeframe used by prosecutors to boost penalties for multiple DUI offenses. A first or second offense within seven years carries Class B misdemeanor charges, which climbs to a Class A misdemeanor for a third offense in seven years and a Class C felony for four times or more in 15 years.
Johnson said he intended to leave the judicial "lookback" untouched and only hide records from public view.
But Birst also threw cold water on the idea of criminal record expungement, noting that potential employers could still scour the internet for news articles on an applicant’s past.
“If what we’re trying to get people back employed and not punish for things they’ve done in their past, the real only way to do that is provide some sort of employee protections,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said they don't generally comment on pending legislation.
A separate House bill would allow people to petition courts to seal records for a wider range of nonviolent and nonsexual offenses.