After 11 states enacted 19 laws limiting consideration of criminal records by occupational licensing agencies last year, the first significant record reforms of 2021 are occupational licensing laws enacted by Ohio and the District of Columbia. D.C.’s new law is particularly comprehensive, and applies both to health-related and other licensed professions in the District.
The new District of Columbia law, Act A23-0561, is described in detail in the DC profile from the Restoration of Rights Project. It provides that no one may be denied a license based on conviction of a crime unless it is “directly related” to the licensed occupation, as determined by a detailed set of standards; prohibits inquiry about a record until an applicant has been found otherwise qualified and then prohibits consideration of certain records (including non-conviction and sealed convictions); and provides procedural protections in the event of denial. The new law also establishes a pre-application petition process for individuals with a record to determine their eligibility, and requires the Mayor to report annually to the Council on each board’s record. The Institute for Justice has described the “landmark” new D.C. law as “the best in the nation, second only to Indiana.”
The new Ohio law, HB 263, is more complex and less protective than DC’s, requiring licensing boards to publish lists of two types of convictions: those that “shall” be disqualifying (overcome only by a court-ordered certificate) and those that “may” be found disqualify based on their “direct relationship” to the licensed occupation. Other convictions and non-conviction records may not be grounds for denying a license, and vague terms like “moral character” and “moral turpitude” may not be used. If a conviction is on the list of those “directly related,” the board must still consider certain standards linked to an applicants overall record that are linked to public safety, and may not deny after a period of either five or 10 years depending on the offense. In the event of denial, a board must provide procedural protections including written reasons and a hearing. These new features supplement the provision for a binding preliminary determination enacted by Ohio in 2019.
Michigan‘s governor also signed a series of bills regulating occupational licensure on the last day of 2020, which include some of the features of the schemes described above but retain the unfortunate disqualification standard of “good moral character.” While Michigan’s licensing law could use improvement, it contributed to the state’s earning the title of Reintegration Champion of 2020.
Our report on new legislation in 2020, documenting that 11 states enacted 19 licensing reform laws, noted that “[o]f all the criminal record reforms enacted during this modern reintegration reform era, no other approaches the regulation of occupational licensing agencies in terms of breadth, consistency, and likely efficacy.” We reprint the discussion of 2020 licensing reform from our report here:
On July 1, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law an expansive new regulation of the state’s occupational licensing process, giving the agencies that control access to 255 occupations detailed new standards for considering criminal records in the licensing process. Pennsylvania has not addressed these issues on a state-wide basis since the 1970’s, and with proper implementation the new law promises a path to the middle class for skilled individuals whose career prospects might otherwise be limited.
While Pennsylvania’s law is by far the most ambitious one of its kind passed this year, five other states have also passed laws since the beginning of 2020 regulating consideration of criminal record in occupational licensing. Two were states that previously had no general law governing this issue (Idaho and Missouri) and three were states that extended laws passed in recent years (Iowa, Utah and West Virginia).
Pennsylvania’s new law is analyzed in detail below. The provisions of the other five states’ new licensing laws are summarized briefly at the end of the post, and the laws of all six states are written up in greater detail in the relevant state profiles in the Restoration of Rights Project.
Since 2013, almost every state has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in civil society. It has not been an easy task, in part because of the volume and complexity of state and federal laws imposing collateral consequences. To encourage employers and other decision-makers to give convicted individuals a fair chance, some states have enacted or modified judicial restoration mechanisms like expungement, sealing, and certificates of relief. Others have extended nondiscrimination laws, limited criminal record inquiries, and facilitated front-end opportunities to avoid conviction.
In partnership with the NACDL Restoration of Rights Project, the CCRC maintains a comprehensive and current state-by-state guide to mechanisms for restoration of rights and status after conviction. As a part of keeping that resource up to date, we have inventoried measures enacted and policies adopted by states in the past four years to mitigate or avoid the disabling effects of a criminal record, and present it here as a snapshot of an encouraging national trend.
This New York Times editorial urges states to seal or expunge juvenile records “so that young offenders are not permanently impaired by their youthful transgressions.” It describes a new study from the Juvenile Law Center that concludes “only a few states have ironclad systems prohibiting employers and members of the public from gaining access to [juvenile] records.”
The first juvenile courts were established more than a century ago on the principle that children deserve special care under the law because they are vulnerable, because their transgressions tend to be nonviolent and because they can be expected, on the whole, to outgrow their youthful misbehavior.
These presumptions are borne out by data showing that 95 percent of young people enter the juvenile justice system for nonviolent crimes like theft or vandalism — behavior they typically leave behind when they move into adulthood. But because some juvenile court records remain open to the public when they should have been sealed or expunged, these young people can be denied jobs, housing and even admission to college.