Important CORI, education reforms pass state Senate

December 4, 2009
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The state Senate last month approved two landmark pieces of legislation that will positively affect the residents of the City of Boston for decades. Looking to reduce the recidivism rate, spend taxpayer dollars more wisely and make access to criminal records fairer and more effective, the Senate passed a public safety bill that includes major reforms to our Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system.

One day earlier, the Senate passed an education reform bill that aims to systematically improve student success, narrow the achievement gap facing low-income students and students of color and increase accountability in school administration. These two bills, if approved by the House of Representatives in January, are big steps toward greater economic and social justice in our state and greater safety in our neighborhoods.

Getting CORI reform through the Senate has been my top legislative priority this year. The legislation will give hope and opportunity to thousands of residents statewide. The bill passed by the Senate:

• “Bans the box,” preventing employers from placing a question about criminal records on initial job applications. It requires employers to provide a copy of any CORI report before questioning an applicant on it, or before rejecting an applicant.

• Reduces the look-back period from 15 years to 10 for felonies, and from 10 years to five for misdemeanors. (Homicides remain visible on a person’s CORI permanently, and sexual offenses remain as long as an offender has a duty to register with the Commonwealth, or for 15 years—whichever is longer.)

The bill also includes important reforms to our mandatory minimums system and improvements in post-release supervision. These reforms will make our neighborhoods safer by giving people a realistic pathway to positive employment and thus reducing recidivist crime. They will also help our communities build economic self-sufficiency by removing unnecessary barriers for those who are looking for work. And they’ll help all taxpayers by shifting public safety dollars from away from ineffective “revolving-door” models in our criminal justice system—making more resources available for public safety measures that we know work, like youth programming, substance abuse treatment and community policing.

The school reform bill passed earlier in the week will likewise change our education system in Massachusetts for decades to come. As a former public school teacher, improving public education has been among my core motivators for running for public office.

When debate began this year over charter schools and our systems for turning around underperforming schools, I set out the goals for which I would be fighting as a member of the Joint Committee on Education. I will give an accounting in a future opinion piece in this newspaper of how the bill we passed, S. 2205, addresses those core goals.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz
Jamaica Plain