LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Less than a month remains before the start of the next state legislative session and one bill, in particular, gives new hope to former inmates who are trying to turn their lives around.
"Time is of the essence," Tara Bennett said. "It means a lot, especially to somebody who, you know, is needing to get a job, a specific job or needing housing."
Tara is in the process of having her court records sealed. She said finding a place to live was a challenge she hadn't counted on when she completed her sentence for drug charges.
"'Will y'all rent to a felon?' And the response is immediately, 'No,'" she said.
Having a record sealed allows someone with a misdemeanor or a violation to hide it from the public, almost like it never existed. A bill that's been filed would cut two months from the waiting period before a judge can grant the order to seal.
"I can't see any downside at all," Rick Watson, State Re-entry Manager for Goodwill Industries of Arkansas said. "Keep in mind that, whenever you're sealing someone's record, that's a person that's off probation, they're off parole, they've met all the requirements that the state is asking them to complete."
Non-violent felonies, misdemeanors and traffic violations can all be sealed in Arkansas. That can make it easier for someone to get a job, find an apartment, get insurance, receive a state license or adopt a child.
"Also, the ability for people that like to go hunt or just people that want to own their own firearm. Not having a felony on your record can impact that, also," Watson said.
Tara got a job at Goodwill, a place that makes an effort to hire people who have a record. But she knows lots of people in her situation aren't as lucky. She sees this bill as a chance to change lives.
"If you're really wanting to change, they should make it a little easier for you to change," she said, "Because it's hard if you're having so many obstacles, then it's easy to just go right back into what you were used to doing."
Many people struggle to navigate the process -- if they can't get a job and can't find housing, then hiring a lawyer is a reach.
Goodwill has clinics and partnerships that allow people who are eligible to get free help with their applications.