Memphis mayor, leaders raise money for proposed expungement program

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A proposed bill in Tennessee that would cut the felony expungement fee in half was recently passed by the House and Senate and waits for the governor's signature.

The fee is currently at $350, which is the third-highest in the country.

State Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) sponsored the bill in the House that would lower the fee to $280 [which includes a $100 filing fee]. It passed unanimously.

Of that $280, $50 will go to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, $100 is a filing fee, and the rest goes to the district attorney's expungement fund.

Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) sponsored the Senate equivalent of the bill.

"It matters more in Memphis than anywhere else in Tennessee," said Josh Spickler, Executive Director of Just City.

Just City is a nonprofit that's cleared the records of 175 people in Shelby County. Spickler said record expungement opens up opportunities for people since they wouldn't have to check the box in a job application.

"With expungement, we've seen people go to full-time work, benefited work, regular hours, expungement can do wonders for your employment status," Spickler said.

The bill is estimated to cause the state general fund to lose more than $131,000 in revenue; however, Akbari is expecting an increase in the number of expungement fees with the price slashed in half.

"I don't want anybody to have to suffer for the consequences of their actions on their worst day," Akbari said.

On Wednesday, Mayor Strickland announced he's looking to raise an additional $25,000 which would push an expungement grant match to $50,000.

"Expunging people's records is important in so many ways," Mayor Strickland said.

The city has already paid for 80 qualifying expungements and wants to do more.

"What is it going to take to change this community and  move the needle - this is one way you can help do that by writing a check and helping someone clear their record," said Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.

The city is holding a fundraiser on June 5 for the Better Memphis Fund to help with the cost of the fees. The fundraiser will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the Hattiloo Theatre. Donations can also be made to the fund online through the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis and 100 percent of the donations will be used to pay for expungements. To donate online, click here.

Spickler said lawmakers need to do more and he thinks the next step is getting any charge that doesn't result in a conviction stripped from someone's record.

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