ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill into law Wednesday making it easier to erase the criminal records of some offenders. The law could affect thousands of Minnesotans.

It allows judges to permanently seal the records of what are called “reformed offenders.” Many of these crimes are lower-level drug crimes committed many years ago.

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But some expungements could include more serious felony-level crimes, if the offenders can show they are reformed.

The bill creates a new mechanism for judges to evaluate former offenders, and permanently seal criminal records from the public.

That’s been a problem because those records often haunt offenders for many years — and make it very difficult for them to get a job, or housing, or even get into a school.

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“So I would ask Minnesota employers to get beyond this one-strike-and-you’re-out-forever approach,” Dayton said. “Look at the person, take the time, make the effort to see who this person really is and whether she or he has turned their lives around and will continue to do so, or not.”

The Minnesota Second Chance Coalition estimates that one in five Minnesotans has a criminal record of some kind — some of them decades old.

But until now there’s been no way to expunge those records.

One important distinction — these records would not be sealed from police. Law enforcement could have access to those records if a person commits a future crime.

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But that’s the point of this. This bill is focused on people who made a mistake a long time ago and have never re-offended.