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More than a dozen states lift barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people.

Restrictions on occupational licensing are often a collateral consequence of criminal convictions.National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction, “Collateral Consequences Inventory,” accessed January 15, 2019 (listing 11,138 collateral consequences related to “business licensure and participation”) There are thousands of such laws and regulations nationwide that block people from jobs as varied as cosmetology and real estate, often with no relation to the underlying criminal offense.National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction, “Collateral Consequences Inventory,” accessed January 15, 2019 (listing 11,138 collateral consequences related to “business licensure and participation”) But lawmakers across the country took action this year to ensure that people with criminal histories can engage in licensed professions.TCR Staff, “2018 Called ‘High Point’ in Restoring Rights to Individuals with Criminal Records,” The Crime Report, January 11, 2019.

According to a report by the Collateral Consequence Resource Center, 14 states enacted laws regulating occupational licensing in 2018, and nine of them (California, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) “adopted a similar comprehensive framework to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record.”Love and Schlussel, Reducing Barriers to Reintegration, 2019, 2 & 8. A majority of states now have such “fair chance” licensing laws.Love and Schlussel, Reducing Barriers to Reintegration, 2019, 2 & 8., 2 & 9.

The legislation took different forms. Kansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee enacted laws that will ensure people may pursue an occupational license, regardless of criminal history, if the prior criminal conviction does not directly relate to the applicable occupation or profession.Kansas HB 2386 (2017);Indiana HB 1245 (2018); Nebraska LB 299 (2018);Tennessee HB 2248 (2017-18); and Tennessee SB 2465 (2018). Nebraska is extending the principle to people who have already applied for licenses and been rejected: legislation enacted in April opens up a petitioning process for formerly incarcerated people to appeal to the relevant occupational board for licensure.Nebraska LB 299 (2018). In March, Delaware took concrete steps to provide job opportunities for the justice involved when Governor John Carney signed HB 97—which passed the state legislature with unanimous support—into law, establishing an apprenticeship program for barbers in Delaware’s prisons and precluding consideration of convictions dating back more than 10 years when applying for a barbering or cosmetology license.Delaware HB 97 (2018).

The federal government also took action on the job front. A 2017 U.S. Department of Labor grant funded a three-year project to assist states in improving their understanding of policies and practices related to occupational licensing.Rebecca Pirius, “States Making It Easier for Ex-Offenders to Get Occupational Licenses,” National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), March 29, 2018. Eleven states—Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, and Wisconsin—are participating in the Occupational Licensing Learning Consortium, which concludes December 2019.NCSL, Occupational Licensing: Assessing State Policy and Practice (Washington, DC: NCSL, 2017); and NCSL, “Occupational Licensing Policy Learning Consortium,” August 5, 2017.