On ‘Expungement Bill,’ No Disagreement, Just No Agreement

By David Cruz

Try as they might, Democratic legislators have failed every time they’ve tried to override a Christie veto. In the wake of serious mass shooting across the country, lawmakers here find themselves at the junction of gubernatorial vetoes, guns and mental health. A bill which would require police to be notified when someone looking to get a gun petitions to have their mental health records expunged once had unanimous support, in both houses. But then the governor vetoed the bill and the parties parted ways. A Senate override was successful, but the effort fell short in the Assembly. Now, Republicans are again proposing an alternate to the current bill.

“It says if you go in for an expungement of your mental health records” it says ‘for the purpose of purchasing a firearm.’ So, people can go in, get a record expunged as long as they don’t say it’s for the purposes of getting a firearm,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick today. “You take those words out, this bill passes tomorrow.”

But Democrats say Republicans are just trying to come up with a smokescreen to avoid explaining why they co-sponsored and voted unanimously for the bill but have somehow seen the light after the Republican governor vetoed it.

“Just call it for what it is,” countered Senate President Steve Sweeney. “You were told you can’t do it. You voted for the bill; there was nothing wrong with the bill that we all approved and you should vote for it again. When I hear people say ‘well, I read it this time’ what are you telling the public? Especially when it’s your legislation.”

Bramnick says this is a fix that serves the pubic safety goals of the original bill but uncouples it from gun rights, which is kind of what prompted the governor’s veto in the first place. The Minority leader says Democrats would get behind this compromise if they weren’t so obsessed with overriding a Christie veto, the result of which would theoretically be political damage to the governor’s newly-energized presidential campaign.

“I’m simply saying let’s get it done right; there’s a couple of changes, let’s do it, and they say no, we just want to override the governor,” charged Bramnick. “I get it, ok. Overriding the governor is pretty cool. Great. Maybe we do that another time. Let’s fix the bill.”

Democrats say asking everyone who wants to expunge their mental health records to notify police – whether they want a gun permit or not – has the opposite effect.

“They found one person who said they liked it and all the other experts were against it because you will further stigmatize people with mental health issues,” said Sweeney. “You don’t want to punish someone because they have mental health issues, you want to help them.”

The Assembly speaker says he’ll try another veto override next week. If Republicans want to try to introduce the Bramnick bill, he says, good luck with that, which is pretty much what Republicans say about another override vote, each blaming the other for failing to pass a bill both say they want to vote for.