More states enact major “second chance” reforms

In recent weeks, three more states — Colorado, Louisiana and Vermont — have enacted laws intended to make it easier for people with a criminal record to find and keep employment, or otherwise to regain rights and status.

We are just now noting Wyoming’s enactment in March 2018 of general standards for professional and occupational licensure, which impose new restrictions on how criminal record may be taken into account by licensing agencies, and its amendment of more than a dozen specific licensing laws.

In the first five months of 2018 alone, a total of 21 states have enacted legislation to improve opportunities for people with a criminal record, with more similar laws evidently on the way.  States have enacted several different types of “second chance” laws this year, from expansion of voting rights to expansion of judicial authority to relieve collateral consequences at sentencing.

On May 25, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed into law an expansion of the state’s expungement authority for both adult and juvenile offenders, reducing waiting periods and other eligibility criteria for qualifying felony and misdemeanor convictions.  The new law also authorizes courts to expunge non-conviction records 12 months after the conclusion of the case, without need for a petition from the defendant, and without regard to the nature of the offense.  This is the third time in recent years that Vermont has extended eligibility for expungement.

On May 29, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill extending the state’s existing authority for sentencing courts to waive application of collateral consequences affecting employment, licensing, and other opportunities and benefits, to make this relief available in all cases regardless of sentence.  Previously this waiver authority was available only in cases involving a community-based penalty.  Courts are authorized to take action as early as sentencing and throughout the period an individual is under sentence.  In this respect, the law resembles the authority proposed by the American Law Institute in the collateral consequences provisions of its new Mode Penal Code: Sentencing.  The Colorado law is described in detail in the Colorado profile from the Restoration of Rights Project.

At the end of May, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards approved several “second chance” bills:  One new law extends voting rights to anyone under sentence for a felony who has not been actually incarcerated in the past five years; two additional laws make minor adjustments to the state expungement law, to exempt deferred adjudication cases from the 15-year eligibility waiting period for a second expungement, and to add to the requirements for filing an expungement motion.  Another new law requires the governor to conduct regular periodic reviews of the standards applied by occupational licensing agencies.  As finally enacted, this last-mentioned law substantially watered down provisions in earlier versions of the legislation that would have limited agency consideration of criminal records in licensing actions.

Earlier this spring, Wyoming enacted a new provision of its general state licensing code establishing a “direct relationship” standard for consideration of conviction by all licensing agencies not otherwise subject to a specific contrary statutory standard. See Wyo. Stat. § 33-1-304.  See Enrolled Act 63 (March 2018), available at  This provision prohibits consideration of prior convictions that are more than 20 years old, except where the person is still under sentence or the sentence was completed fewer than 10 years ago, and unless the elements of the offense are “directly related to the specific duties and responsibilities of that profession or occupation.”  Among the new law’s policies is that agencies should ensure that applicants have an adequate opportunity to appeal a denial.

Wyoming also amended more than a dozen specific professional and occupational licensing statutes to rescind vague qualifications like “good moral character,” and to substitute functional criteria specifically tying the nature of a particular crime to the licensed activity pursuant to a direct relationship standard.  Licensing schemes affected include those regulating teachers, guides and outfitters, engineers, veterinarians, and nursing home administrators.  Licensing standards for chiropractors, nurses, optometrists, dental hygienists, social workers, and marriage and family counselors and substance abuse counselors were also amended.  Securities dealers and investment advisers, insurance agents, and athlete agents are covered by the reforms.

Legislatures in several other states have passed bills that are currently awaiting approval of the governor, including Illinois, New Hampshire, and Tennessee.  The only “second chance” legislation we know of that was disapproved by the governor is the South Carolina legislature’s unsuccessful attempt to authorize expungement of drug convictions.

We expect again to provide a summary of all new laws enacted in 2018 toward the end of the year, and we will also be keeping the state profiles and other resources in the Restoration of Rights Project up to date in real time.