Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is backing legislation that would allow record restrictions for people who have served sentences and stayed out of trouble after convictions for nonviolent felony and misdemeanor crimes.

Howard announced last week he has joined forces with Georgia Justice Project Executive Director Doug Ammar to help craft “first of its kind” legislation. On Monday, Howard announced they and local ministers had asked for a meeting with Gov. Nathan Deal to talk about the proposal in House Bill 981.

Deal did not have an immediate response. However, he has repeatedly supported measures aimed at helping nonviolent offenders overcome barriers to employment.

“The bill would allow under certain conditions, Georgia citizens the right not to reveal non-violent misdemeanor and felony convictions to respective employers,” Howard said Monday.  “Georgia would join 25 other states that have already passed such legislation. The group believes that with the Governor’s support the bill could move forward now.”

Howard’s news release quoted another supporter of the bill, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, saying: “It is never too late or early for justice.”

Howard said he has for years operated a record restriction and expungement unit in Fulton County, helping thousands with restriction and expungement requests. In 2017 alone, the office restricted 2,271 criminal history records. However, state law does not allow general restrictions on some nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Howard said too many people have left his office “frustrated and without hope because they could not be helped.”

Between 1963 and 2012, more than 705,000 people were convicted of non-violent felonies and 3.8 million were convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors in Georgia, according to Howard.

“There are Georgia citizens who were convicted of minor felonies and misdemeanors as teenagers, 30 to 40 years ago, who are still being punished today,” Howard said. “Unfortunately, many of these convictions have forced them to seek lesser paying jobs or have prevented them from being able to find work at all.”

Howard quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. saying in 1955: “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”