20180410 Hege

Former Davidson County Sheriff Gerald Hege (center), accepts congratulations after the Davidon County Board of Elections denied a challenge to his candidacy as sheriff in the fall election, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. At right is Hege's attorney, Katie Hall, who successfully argued that his full rights had been restored by an expungement of his previous felony convictions.

A state House Bill that would ban convicted felons with expunged records, such as former Davidson County Sheriff Gerald Hege, from being able to run for the office once again has cleared a second committee, pushing it one step closer to becoming law.

The nicknamed "Hege bill," House Bill 863, cleared the House Finance Committee and was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations Thursday. The bill does not specifically reference Hege, though its nickname originates because Hege is the only sheriff candidate in recent years to seek the office with a felony record.

Hege pleaded guilty in 2004 to two felony charges. He later applied for expungement, which was accepted just one day before filing for the 2018 sheriff’s race ended.

As a convicted felon, Hege was thought to be ineligible for the office under state law, but was able to file with the help of a new law that went into effect in December 2017, which reduced the time people convicted of non-violent felonies must wait to seek to have those crimes expunged from 15 to 10 years.

Davidson County Board of Elections officials were stumped by unclear language in the state constitution and ultimately voted 3-1 to allow Hege to continue his run for sheriff after the expungement. Hege received about 16% of the vote in the May 2018 primary.

Hege, who was first elected as Davidson County sheriff in 1994, pleaded guilty to the two felony counts in 2004 as part of a deal with prosecutors after allegations of corruption within his department.

As part of the plea deal, Hege was forced to resign.

He ran again in 2010 and was defeated in the primary by former sheriff David Grice, prompting state lawmakers to offer a constitutional amendment banning felons from running for sheriff in North Carolina.

Hege attempted to find a loophole in the amendment with his expungement, so state lawmakers are now trying to pass HB 863 to clarify.

In order to become law, HB 863 must still be placed on the calendar for floor consideration, voted on, sent to the state Senate if approved, then sent to the governor and signed into law.

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