Judges can no longer consider unpaid fines when reviewing record-sealing petitions

Judges cannot consider a person’s fines, fees or outstanding financial obligations when reviewing a petition to seal a criminal record, under a new state law signed August 10 by the governor.

The Fair Access to Employment (FATE) bill, House Bill 5341, became effective immediately upon signing by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

RROCI celebrates passing the FATE bill, including Mercedes González (front, fourth from left) and State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth.

While the FATE bill does not excuse any debts, it prohibits judges from refusing to seal a record until all fines or fees are paid.

The issue arose after people sought to seal records, as allowed under 2017 legislation that expanded record-sealing options in Illinois (HB2373).

Seen as job-access measures, both bills were advocated by the CCH Reentry Project and partners in the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI) — Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance.

The FATE bill passed the Senate by a 32-21-1 vote and the House, 63-39, on May 24. CCH made multiple trips to Springfield with reentry community leaders to advocate for the bill, involving service providers that included St. Leonard’s Ministries and Haymarket Center.

Said Ali Simmons, a CCH reentry leader, “RROCI viewed this bill as a top priority because after HB2373 passed last year, courts started engaging in the practice of denying sealing petitions based on an individual’s unpaid fines or fees. This was an unintended consequence. It was a way to continue to bar people with criminal histories from sealing their records, obtaining a job, and finally being able to move on with their lives, which includes having the means to pay their fines and fees.”

Kudos to our lead sponsors, State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) and State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), and to Gov. Rauner for signing the bill. Policy Specialist Mercedes González and Organizers Rachel Ramirez and Bisma Shoukat led CCH’s effort, working with leaders Gloria Davis, Glenn Brown and Ali Simmons.

Many thanks to the CCH and RROCI supporters who sent HB5341 action alerts to the governor this summer!

LINK to HB5341 Fact Sheet

– Anne Bowhay, Media