Collateral Consequences in Occupational Licensing Act

We’ve noted in recent posts the numerous states that, just in the past three or four months, have enacted broad occupational licensing reforms affecting people with a criminal record.  Many of these new laws have been influenced by a model developed by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian public interest law firm that has been litigating and lobbying to reduce barriers to work for more than two decades.  In turn, states like IndianaKansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin have built upon IJ’s model to enact even more progressive schemes intended to ensure that people with the requisite professional qualifications will not be unfairly excluded based on a record of arrest or conviction.

Now IJ has incorporated many of these progressive refinements into its original model licensing law, the Occupational Licensing Review Act (OLRA), and broken out the provisions relating to criminal records into a free-standing model act specifically directed at managing collateral consequences in the occupational licensing context, the new Collateral Consequences in Occupational Licensing Act (CCOLA).

The CCOLA has the same key features as the original OLRA:

  • It provides individuals with an opportunity to seek a preliminary determination from the licensing agency as to whether their criminal record will be disqualifying;
  • It allows the individual to seek this determination at any time, including before investing in the required training necessary to otherwise qualify for the license, requires a written decision within 90 days, and limits what the agency may charge for this determination to $100;
  • It limits the types of records that an agency may consider in a licensing decision to convictions of serious or violent crimes;
  • It shifts the burden of proof to the agency to establish that a petitioner’s conviction is substantially related to the state’s interest in protecting public safety;
  • It requires agencies to provide written reasons justifying denial of a license based on conviction in terms of public safety; and
  • It requires each agency to publish a report annually on the number of applicants with a criminal record seeking a license, the number of approvals and denials, and the type of offenses for each type of action.

In addition to these features, IJ has recently further clarified the types of criminal conduct that may be considered in licensing decisions, and specifically prohibited the use of vague criteria like “good moral character” as a basis for exclusion.   As revised, IJ’s model laws  now provide that licensing agencies may not consider non-conviction records, juvenile adjudications, non-violent misdemeanors, and most felonies and violent misdemeanors that occurred more than three years prior to seeking licensure.  See CCOLA, 100.02, Subd. 7.  Agencies may consider violent felonies and sexual offenses at any time, although even these records must still be tested against the “public safety” standard:

The board may deny the petition only if it establishes by clear and convincing evidence that:
1. The individual was convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor, not
excluded by subdivision 7, which is directly, substantially and adversely
related to the state’s interest in protecting public safety; and
2. The granting of state recognition will put the individual in a position where
the individual is more likely than not to reoffend and cause harm.

See CCOLA, 100.02, Subd 10(c).

IJ’s website points out that “[m]ore than 25 percent of workers need a government-issued license to work,” so lowering barriers to licensure for people with a criminal record has important implications for efficiency and public safety.  In introducing its stand-alone CCOLA model, IJ’s website states the following:

An honest living is one of the best ways to prevent those with a criminal record from re-offending. But many occupational licensing laws block or burden ex-offenders from entering regulated fields.  Numerous licensing laws have morality clauses that (1) bar automatically and permanently ex-offenders from working without any individualized review or (2) require the ex-offender to prove a negative—that the ex-offender’s past crimes will not cause him to harm customers in the future.

Such provisions ironically may decrease public safety.  States with prohibitions and high burdens on entry have higher criminal recidivism. Conversely, states that have no such bars and low burdens have seen declines in recidivism, according to Professor Stephen Slivinski’s landmark study Turning Shackles into Bootstraps.

IJ’s website surveys some of the key provisions of many of the recently enacted state licensing reforms.  It also very happily links to the relevant 50-state chart from the Restoration of Rights Project, which we very much appreciate!

With an enrolled bill sitting on its governor’s desk for action, New Hampshire is poised to become the 10th state to enact comprehensive licensing reform in 2018.  In addition to Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin, Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Wyoming have all just this year enacted new laws incorporating many of the features of IJ’s model law.  Illinois anticipated these states by six months when it significantly amended its licensing scheme to reflect IJ’s approach in August 2017.

We were pleased to be able to work with Lee McGrath of IJ’s office in Minneapolis in developing many of the amended features of the CCOLA, which have also been folded into IJ’s broader model occupational licensing act.  We look forward to continuing to work with Lee and his colleagues in months to come.


Margaret Love

Margaret Love is CCRC's Executive Director. A former U.S. Pardon Attorney, she represents applicants for executive clemency in her private practice in Washington, D.C.. She is lead co-author of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy, and Practice (4th ed. 2021), and served as an advisor to the ALI Model Penal Code: Sentencing.

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