In The News
The construction industry desperately needs qualified, skilled craft professionals to efficiently modernize and build roads, bridges, energy production and other projects across the State of Texas. Excessive workforce demands created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and stimulus from COVID-19 relief has pumped billions of dollars in new spending into our Federal, State and local infrastructure. With the scarcity of qualified skilled workers this has become is an even more pressing issue for the State and employers. With many industries outside of construction also competing for increasingly scarce labor, the industry must take drastic steps to ensure future workforce demands are met.
A viable construction labor pool exists; however, its unattainable due to current restrictive Texas State legislation regarding processes and procedures surrounding the expunction and sealing of criminal records. Positive changes to these laws would allow the construction industry to hire, train, and retain those with misdemeanors and felony convictions who have met the terms of the probation and need their records either expunged or sealed to pass required criminal background checks for gainful employment at greater numbers.
Everyone, at some point, has made a mistake or has been in the wrong place at the wrong time resulting in trouble. For some, that trouble can lead to a criminal record reflecting an arrest, charge, or conviction. While most convictions cannot be removed from a person’s record, Texas law does allow individuals to remove or seal information about an arrest, charge, or conviction from their permanent records in certain circumstances. Chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure outlines the arrests and offenses which may qualify for expunction or sealing records.
According to the University of Houston, up until recently, criminal records in Texas were not automatically expunged or sealed, but instead remained a discoverable part of an individual's criminal record unless an application to expunge or seal the records was filed by an attorney and granted by the court. Per recent statutory changes, all cases that become eligible for sealing after September 1, 2015, are supposed to now be automatically sealed. However, older cases still need to follow the prior procedure of applying with the court, and newly eligible cases are experiencing a backlog and implementation delays, so there is currently no guarantee that automatic expunction and sealing is happening- making it difficult to tap into this potential labor market.
The U. S. Department of Justice National Re-Entry Resource Center states the stigma of having a criminal record and having been out of the workforce often exacerbate life challenges after release, or when the terms of probation have successfully been met. More restrictions and less worker freedom make it harder to meet workforce demand.
To help remedy the backlog and move people away from recidivism and into a path towards a career and livable wages, there are several steps that can be taken now. Re-examining the types of criminal offenses eligible for expunction/record sealing is one remedy. Supporting legislation that will help expedite expunction of records, like Bill # 1737 recently filed by Representative Jeff Leach. Also, sealing all eligible records prior to September 1, 2015, as well as decreasing the timeframe when records are eligible for expunction/record sealing would add to the solution. Lastly, waiving legal fees and court costs associated with the expunction/record sealing would provide a more achievable and positive path towards obtaining a career.
Supporting responsible legislation, like Bill #1737, and expediting and streamlining the expunction/sealing processes provides state and local construction companies with additional tools and resources needed to build a construction workforce that is safe, skilled and productive.
About the Author:
Darryl Samuels is the Managing Partner of D. Samuels & Associates (DSA), a Houston area Construction Management firm, he and his team provide construction, construction management, and resource development services to public and private commercial and infrastructure projects. DSA holds significant contracts with the Houston Independent School District, Ferrovial, and Hensel Phelps Construction Company to perform construction related services on K-12, Highway, Airport and Hospital projects in and around the State of Texas.