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: