Members of the Laramie Youth Council testified before Wyoming’s Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday in support of a bill that would make it easier for young people to expunge citations from their criminal record.
The bill passed the committee unanimously and gave the Youth Council members a chance to interact with local officials, to learn more about the legislative process and experience testifying in support of a bill.
Sam Miller, treasurer of the Youth Council, said while the opportunity was “intimidating at first,” the members of the senate were “very friendly” and “very welcoming.”
“I didn’t really know how the legislative process worked in regards to citizens lobbying, especially at the local level, since I think a lot of times we overlook that to the national stage,” Miller said. “So, it was a really good opportunity to get to engage in a local, statewide legislative process.”
In November, the Youth Council hosted a Pitch Day where it heard pitches for ideas and projects in need of “youth-driven solutions.” Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent asked for the Youth Council’s help lobbying a bill, House Bill 44, that would make it easier and cheaper for young people to expunge citations from their criminal record. The bill would allow 18-year-olds to have an attorney petition to expunge all their juvenile records of citations or convictions — not including felonies — for free after a 20-day waiting period.
Trent said during Pitch Day that many young people might not even realize that by receiving a citation or going through a diversion program, they still have a criminal record. Unlike most states, in Wyoming the record is not sealed once the person turns 18 and expunging the records can cost upwards of $300 in fees, Trent added. Many young people also don’t know how to get their records expunged, especially electronically, and Trent said during her pitch that the bill would make it easier for them to do so.
Miller said the Youth Council accepted the pitch because it met the council’s criteria of needing to make an impact on the community and needing youth-driven action and solutions.
“It makes it more accessible for a lot of youth to get their records expunged and move on with their lives,” Miller said. “Also, having youth testify about a bill that’s about youth expungement is much more powerful than having adults testify about something that won’t really affect them.”
While some Youth Council members were learning about the lobbying process and meeting senators on Monday, Miller said he and some other members testified before the committee.
When he testified, Miller said he tried to counter some of the opposing arguments to the bill, which included potential discouragement of youth accountability. He said the bill does have language which allows for attorneys to object the expungement or to refuse to file the petition at all.
“There’s still a lot of room where, if the district attorney doesn’t think that the youth has adapted or improved, they will not have their record expunged,” Miller said.
The bill passed unanimously through the House Judiciary Committee as well as the floor of the House prior to the Youth Council testifying on Monday. The bill is now in the Senate’s general file.