TRENTON – New Jersey might create a statewide database of arrest warrants available to the public, though the idea concerns criminal-justice and immigration reform groups nervous it would be abused.

The idea behind the bill, A634, is to reduce the likelihood that someone wouldn’t even realize they’re subject to a warrant, which could be for things like unpaid traffic ticket fines, until they’re apprehended by a police officer.

But Yannick Wood, director of the criminal justice reform program for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said  “there’s so many privacy concerns with it,” even if it’s well-intentioned.

“While it makes sense for people to be able to freely access their own warrant information, having that information available for everyone to see could be a recipe for discrimination,” he said. “For example, if an employer or a landlord accesses this information, someone can lose their job or home even if that warrant was erroneously issued.”

The bill would be searchable, perhaps delivering results with as little as a name and address.

“We just don’t want everybody to have access to this information that’s incomplete and could cause people to be vigilantes or try to act on this incomplete information,” Wood said.

Wood said it makes sense for people to freely access their own warrant information – through a secure verification process that only the person subject to the warrant can use. He suggested perhaps someone should have to opt in for the system, or at least have the chance to opt out.

“We believe that sensitive information needs to be treated sensitively,” he said.

The bill isn’t new. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, first introduced it in February 2012, and has reintroduced it in every legislative session since. It hadn’t gotten a committee vote in its first decade-plus, until last week.

The Assembly Law & Public Safety Committee endorsed the bill unanimously and without debate or testimony, though three people – including Wood – indicated their opposition. The other opponents included the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice and Wind of the Spirit.

The bill was referenced to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration before it could be voted on by the full Assembly.

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It would also need to be taken up in the Senate, where there isn’t yet companion legislation.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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