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Back to Work

Aug 02, 2018 12:31PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By Jason Zacher

This year the General Assembly passed H. 3209, a major jobs bill that the business community believes will expand the state’s economy, increase labor force participation, and lower recidivism rates.

I’ve written about this a few times: Sweeping legislation that expands the type of low-level, non-violent crimes which are eligible for expungement, cleaning up the records of tens of thousands of low-level, non-violent offenders so they can get back to work.

Unemployment in the Upstate is below 3 percent and the need to expand our available pool of workers is critical—or our region’s economic expansion will stall. So far this summer, more than 1,500 more jobs have been announced in Greenville alone. It is essential that we lower barriers to urge people to get back into the workforce.

This legislation will:

Allow for expungement of a crime no longer on the books if the person otherwise qualifies for expungement.
Allow a set of convictions committed at the same time to be expunged jointly.
Allow a person to expunge a lower-level drug conviction one time after staying clean for three years.
Allow people who were convicted before 2010 and eligible for, but not convicted under, the Youthful Offender Program the ability to go back and expunge their records.
Protect employers that hire workers with expungements from frivolous lawsuits related to the expungement.

The bill will not allow or expand expungements for violent offenses, sex crimes, criminal domestic violence, or DUI—despite some misinformation that was out there.

The Greenville Chamber pushed this legislation for two years. We followed in the footsteps of a number of other groups who pioneered expungement reform for more than a decade. We took up the mantle in 2016 because businesses need to tap these ready and willing employees, and we can get tens of thousands of our fellow South Carolinians back into the workforce.

There were major hurdles to passage in the final weeks, and we’re proud of the work Sen. Karl Allen (D-Greenville) and Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Horry) put in to bridge the divide and get the bill through the Senate. A big thank you also goes out to Rep. Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) for his procedural work in maneuvering the bill through the House with minutes left in the 2018 session. 

Their hard work belied election year politics when political pandering usually pushes substantive legislation to the back burner. H. 3209 is a significant step forward that will allow our booming businesses to continue their expansion.

In Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, there are currently 25,000 jobs open and only 12,000 officially unemployed people to fill those jobs. That leaves about 13,000 open jobs with no unemployed people to fill them. Many of those jobs won’t be filled by folks moving in from other places, so we need to fill those jobs locally.

Our state’s labor force participation hovers around 58 percent (well below the U.S. rate of 63 percent), which means there are tens of thousands of people in the Upstate who either choose not to work, or have too many barriers to employment—such as an old conviction.

H. 3209 will help South Carolina get back to the national labor force participation rate, which could result in more than 20,000 additional potential employees in Greenville County alone.

We don’t know who all of those people are, but it’s a good statistical bet that many are formerly incarcerated individuals who are looking for steady work. Steady work that will bring certainty to their families. Steady work that will bring health benefits. Steady work that will allow them to pay taxes. Steady work that will keep them from going back to prison.

We agree that this is not simply a government solution—it is imperative that businesses take a look past the background checks and give these folks a chance. But for many, outdated employment policies and a fear of taking a chance mean individuals returning to the workforce face nearly impossible barriers to gainful employment.

The Greenville Chamber will continue to work on private-sector initiatives to change those attitudes so businesses can succeed and people can prosper.
Thank you to the General Assembly for passage of this essential jobs bill and their overwhelming override of the governor’s veto. Their work will allow thousands of people to go back to work and expand our economy.

Viewpoints, Economic Development

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