In the COVID economy, more states are waking up to the need for occupational licensing reform. In addition to making it easier for Americans to qualify for work, there’s another reason to celebrate this progress: Changes to state occupational licensing laws make it easier for former convicts who’ve served their sentences to re-enter the workforce and become productive, contributing members of society.
The Fair Chance Licensing Act is the latest example of this, passed by Rhode Island’s General Assembly passed last week. Once signed into law, the bill will prevent individuals with a criminal history from being denied an occupational license because of an unrelated criminal conviction.
Occupational licensing laws often require education, training, testing and fees in order to qualify for work in certain industries. Professions involve plumbers, social workers, barbers, cosmetologists, interior decorators and more. Often, they require getting approval from agencies or boards, which has been historically difficult for individuals who have criminal records.
Once Rhode Island’s Fair Chance Licensing Act becomes law, “People with criminal records will no longer be barred outright from seeking occupational licenses for jobs such as plumber, barber, social worker and real estate agent,” The Providence Journal reports, adding:
Agencies will also have to consider how much time has passed since the crime was committed, document the reasons behind any denials and provide demographic data on any conviction-related denials and submit to a transparent appeals process. Juvenile adjudications, expunged records and arrest records that do not include convictions will no longer be permitted to be used as grounds for denial.
Occupational licensing reforms present an opportunity for the Left and the Right to work together in passing legislation that could have lasting impacts for those with criminal records, many of whom are black. The Fair Chance Licensing Act was sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts, a Democrat.
The Trump administration, for its part, has made reducing recidivism in our prison system a priority. To do that, former inmates who have completed their sentences must have an opportunity to pursue work. On that front, Rhode Island’s Fair Chance Licensing Act is a good start.