Legislators in Illinois, Kentucky and Nebraska are seeking to overturn laws prohibiting ex-offenders from receiving many kinds of professional licenses.
“Illinois is among a handful of states reconsidering their licensing rules…giving men and women…a chance…(and) it’s drawing support across the political spectrum as lawmakers try to get more people with criminal records into jobs,” the Pew Charitable Trusts reported.
“In Kentucky, legislators included changes to license in a bill that would also create work-release programs at jails…In Nebraska, a Libertarian senator has proposed rolling back licensing restrictions for all state residents, including those with criminal records.”
On average, each state has 56 occupational licensing and 43 business licensing laws that ban applicants with felony convictions, according to the Alliance for a Just Society, a network of nonprofits.
One in four U.S. residents, 86 million, is in the FBI’s criminal database, and nearly one in three U.S. workers needs an occupational license to do their jobs, according to Pew.
License restrictions for offenders have forced some to work illegally. “We have spoken with people who wanted a certain type of job without a license and have been paid under the table,” said Kim Buddin-Crawford of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which supports changes in licensing.
Eliminating restrictions has support from Kentucky’s licensing boards. Some of Kentucky’s 60-odd licensing boards want to get rid of blanket bans on applicants with a criminal history, said Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who is sponsoring a bill to prevent state licensing entities from rejecting applicants based on felony convictions.
The Safer Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that helps felons find jobs, says even health care employers, who have long been wary of hiring people with a criminal history, have become open to doing so. “They’re at a point where they can no longer turn away people,” said Sodiqa Williams, vice president of the nonprofit.
Research shows that ex-offenders who are steadily employed are less likely to get into trouble with the law again, according to Pew.