The Iowa Senate has approved a bill that would erase the arrest records and even some crime convictions for juveniles who’ve had a clean record for two years, if the county attorney has no objection. Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, says current law requires a teenager to file a petition with the court to get these sorts of records erased.

“Sometimes these are teens that may have been taken into custody, but the charges or whatever were dropped,” Jochum says. “Well, these kids don’t know that after the charges are dropped, it doesn’t mean all that information is still out there as a public record.” If this bill becomes law, the court will automatically erase those records — but only if the teen hasn’t been in trouble with the law for at least two years and the county attorney approves the move,

“Instead of making the teen have to make an application to the court, we’ve said the court needs to just automatically in two years — if that teen has done nothing more wrong or they’re 18 years of ago, they automatically just schedule a hearing and the records are expunged unless the court attorney has an objection,” Jochum says.

Many Iowans have the mistaken impression that juvenile court records are sealed, according to Jochum, but that’s not the case. Arrest records are maintained, for example, even if the juvenile isn’t charged with a crime.

“What’s happening is these are young people, not knowing that this was still on their record because they thought everything was still on their record, and now they’re making applications for scholarships to go to college or applications for the military or for employment and this stuff is showing up on their records,” Jochum says, “and it’s making it really difficult for them to move on with their life.”

The records of juveniles with serious criminal backgrounds will not be erased if this bill becomes law, only the records of kids who’ve had a brush with the law, but have had a clean record for at least two years.