Bill Complicating Rights Restoration in Senate Committee - Thursday!
On Thursday, March 3, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to hear S1165 – legislation greatly complicating restoration of Constitutional rights for persons proven to have recovered from mental health issues. The legislation is sponsored by Senators Fred H. Madden, Jr. (D4) and Linda R. Greenstein (D14).
Clearly, people adjudicated with serious mental health issues should not have access to firearms. But those who have recovered medically, and proven it to the State, should not be permanently stigmatized, harassed, or deprived of their Constitutional rights. S1165’s net effect is to impose more difficulty, complication, and expense into the already extremely stringent rights restoration process for recovered persons, and as a result, fewer recovered persons will have their Constitutional rights restored.
Here are just a few of the problems with S1165:
NULLIFIES ALL PRIOR EXPUNGEMENTS. S1165 retroactively nullifies every prior mental health expungement ever issued, turning recovered persons who have moved on with their lives into felons with the stroke of a pen.
CREATES REDUNDANT LEGAL PROCEEDINGS. S1165 forces recovered persons to seek the same relief twice, in redundant legal proceedings, in order to fully restore their Constitutional rights. Under current New Jersey law, once a person has proven to a New Jersey court that they are fully recovered and qualify for an expungement – which is no easy feat – the expungement operates to restore their Constitutional rights at both the state and federal levels. But S1165 explicitly provides that state law expungement would no longer restore federal rights, and provides an entirely new, duplicative process under which federal rights would need to be restored in addition to the current expungement proceeding.
PERMANENTLY STIGMATIZES RECOVERED PERSONS. S1165 will permanently stigmatize recovered persons who cannot afford the new duplicative rights restoration process, inappropriately leaving them with a permanent and undeserved black mark affecting employment, advancement, business and personal relationships, in addition to the loss of Constitutional rights.
DISCOURAGES OBTAINING MENTAL HEALTH HELP. Because S1165 makes it more burdensome for those who have medically recovered to clear their names, S1165 ironically discourages those with mental health issues from obtaining help in the first place. The mental health system should instead be incentivizing and encouraging the public to obtain needed help, not creating redundant obstacles for recovered persons that send a signal to avoid getting help in the first place.
HIJACKS A PROCESS CREATED TO FACILITATE RIGHTS RESTORATION. The stated purpose of S1165 is “to comply with the requirement that states make available a procedure for relief from federal firearms disability pursuant to the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007.” However, New Jersey is already in compliance with that federal law – the current expungement process provides a clear and recognized procedure for relief from federal firearms disability. New Jersey has already received federal grants totaling $1,179,000 only available to states in compliance with the act. Additionally, the federal GAO has reported that New Jersey had an ATF-certified relief from disabilities program at least as far back as 2012. Accordingly the stated purpose of S1165 has already been met and the legislation is moot. S1165 serves only to add bureaucratic, practical, and legal impediments to the rights restoration process for recovered persons. S1165 is a solution to a problem that has already been solved, and it violates the spirit of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act by making relief from disabilities more cumbersome and bureaucratic.
PLEASE IMMEDIATELY CONTACT MEMBERS OF THE SENATE LAW AND PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE AND TELL THEM TO VOTE “NO” OR AMEND S1165.