View NCSL: States Make It Easier for Ex-Offenders to Get Occupational Licenses

Rebecca Pirius specializes in ex-offender employment laws for the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Her essay was posted on March 29 to the NCSL webpage

Want to become a barber or cosmetologist? You need a license in every state. Have a criminal record? In many states it's that much harder.

A prior conviction is often a barrier to licensure and, thus, employment. Considering that 1 in 3 adults has a criminal record and 1 in 4 occupations requires a license, such barriers can pose significant challenges for states that want to encourage rehabilitation and for ex-offenders who want to earn a living.

Delaware and Indiana are the latest states to reduce those barriers.

Earlier this month, Delaware Governor John Carney (D) signed legislation that removes roadblocks faced by persons with criminal histories who want to pursue an occupation in cosmetology, barbering, electrology, nail technology or aesthetics.

These policy changes follow recommendations made in 2016 by the Delaware Professional Licensing Review Committee, which was established by executive order of then-Governor Jack Markell. The committee’s final report also encouraged every licensing board to review and narrow its list of disqualifying crimes.

Another state making sweeping reforms is Indiana. Last week, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R) signed a bill that reduces licensing barriers—across numerous boards—for persons with criminal histories. The bill, sponsored by Representative Dale DeVon (R), requires all licensing boards (under title 25) to revise any licensing requirements that look at an applicant’s criminal history.

Under a U.S. Department of Labor grant, a three-year project will assist states improve their understanding of policies and best practices related to occupational licensing. Between 2017 and 2019, the project brings together 11 states to participate in the Occupational Licensing Learning Consortium. The 11 states are Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Utah and Wisconsin.

Legislative action is already underway nationwide. Last year, Arizona, Connecticut and Illinois enacted legislation to reduce licensing barriers for persons with criminal histories. Currently, four states—Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Tennessee—have bills pending that would remove roadblocks for this population and help them become productive citizens.

Nebraska Senator Laura Ebke (NP), sponsor of LB 299, summed it up: “The goal is to make it easier for people to work hard and make a living.”