Bumper crop of new expungement laws expected in 2019

Earlier this year we reported that, in 2018, legislatures enacted an unprecedented number of new laws aimed at restoring rights and opportunities for people with a criminal record.  (Last year 32 states, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands enacted 61 new laws to facilitate reentry and reintegration.)  The first quarter of 2019 has already produced a baker’s dozen of new restoration laws, some quite significant, indicating that this year is likely to be every bit as productive as last.  The 13 new laws enhance access to record-clearing relief, occupational licensing and employment, and executive clemency.  Also notable, if only for the sheer number of people who will benefit when the law goes into effect on July 1, is the Virginia legislature’s accession to Governor Ralph Northam’s request that it “eliminate[] the unfair practice of revoking a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay court fines and fees,” which will immediately reinstate driving privileges to more than 627,000 Virginians.

This year to date, state lawmakers have focused most of their attention on improving access to record-clearing: 8 of the 13 new laws expand eligibility for expungement and sealing and streamline applicable procedures.  The two most significant new laws were enacted in Western states.  Utah’s HB 431—signed by Governor Gary Herbert on March 28, 2019—provides for automated sealing relief for certain non-conviction, infraction, and misdemeanor conviction records.  When it takes effect on May 1, 2020, it will be the nation’s second “clean slate” law in operation (Pennsylvania’s first-in-the-Nation 2018 clean slate law will be implemented over a 12-month period beginning in June 2019).  Utah also clarified that employers may not ask about—and an applicant for employment need not disclose—expunged convictions (except under narrow exceptions for public employment).

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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).

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Wisconsin joins crowd of states regulating occupational licensure

On April 16, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law Act 278, making his state the sixth in the past two months to establish new rules on consideration of criminal record in the context of occupational and professional licensure.  Effective August 1, 2018, licensing boards in Wisconsin will be prohibited in most cases from denying or revoking a license based on arrests or pending charges, and required to justify in writing any adverse action based on conviction.  Boards will also be required to give applicants a preliminary determination as to whether a particular conviction will be disqualifying.

Indiana, Arizona, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Tennessee have all recently enacted laws regulating how licensing boards treat arrests and convictions, in some cases with strikingly similar features, as described in recent posts here and here.  The conviction-related provisions of the model occupational licensing law proposed by the Institute for Justice are reflected in almost all of these new laws, though many of them go even farther to discourage unwarranted discrimination affecting as much as 25% of the U.S. workforce.   

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Two more states regulate consideration of conviction in occupational licensing

Tennessee and Nebraska are the two most recent states to enact laws regulating how a criminal record will be considered in occupational licensing.  Nebraska’s Occupational Board Reform Act (LB 299) was approved by Governor Pete Ricketts on Appril 23, and Tennessee’s Fresh Start Act (SB 2465) was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on the same day.

The Nebraska law (which does not take effect until July 2019) is a general deregulation of licensing that includes a provision whereby individuals with a criminal record may obtain a preliminary determination of their eligibility from the relevant licensing board, even before they have obtained the necessary training and qualification.  The board must issue a written determination within 90 days giving its “findings of fact and conclusions of law,” and the fee for this determination may not exceed $100.  The individual may include with the preliminary application “additional information about the individual’s current circumstances, including the time since the offense, completion of the criminal sentence, other evidence of rehabilitation, testimonials, employment history, and employment aspirations.”  The board’s decision may be appealed under the state’s administrative procedure act.

Tennessee’s new law (which is effective July 1, 2018) provides for a preliminary determination of eligibility by a licensing board and written reasons for denial. However, unlike the Nebraska law, it also contains a more detailed set of standards and procedures that apply to a board’s consideration whether a conviction is “directly related” to the license, and it also contains a presumption in favor of issuing a license (with certain exceptions). Among other things, the licensing authority “must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that [the applicant’s conviction] is related to the applicable occupation, profession, business, or trade.”

Additional bills laws regulating consideration of conviction in licensing are well along in the legislative process in Kansas and Louisiana, and an enrolled bill is awaiting the governor’s signature in Maryland. We have revised the Tennessee and Nebraska profiles and 50-state charts from the Restoration of Rights Project to reflect the new licensing laws.

 

More states facilitating licensing for people with a criminal record

Last week we posted a description of a detailed new Indiana law regulating consideration of conviction in occupational and professional licensure throughout the state.  It now appears that this may represent a trend, as eight additional states have either recently enacted or are poised to enact similarly progressive occupational licensing schemes.  New general laws regulating licensure are in place in Arizona, Illinois, and Massachusetts.  Similar bills have been enrolled and are on the governor’s desk for signature in KansasMaryland, Nebraska, and Tennessee.  Arizona’s new 2018 licensing law follows on another law passed in that state in 2017 that authorized provisional licenses for individuals with a criminal record.  Massachusett’s new licensing law is part of a more general criminal justice reform bill.   Delaware and Connecticut have also recently loosened restrictions on licensing for cosmetology and related professions.

The licensing reforms in these states – and in several other states where licensing bills are less far along toward enactment — seem to have been influenced by a model law proposed by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm.  Key features of the Model Occupational Licensing Review Act as they affect individuals with criminal records are 1) to provide individuals with an opportunity to seek a preliminary determination from the licensing agency as to whether their criminal record will be disqualifying; 2) to require licensing agencies to disqualify only if an applicant has been convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor, and if the agency determines that “the state has an important interest in protecting public safety that is superior to the individual’s right to pursue a lawful occupation”; and 3) to require 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.  Disqualification is justified under this model law only if the conviction is “substantially related to the state’s interest in protecting public safety,” and the individual will be “more likely to reoffend by having the license than by not having the license.”

The federal government is also encouraging licensing reform: the U.S. Department of Labor is supporting a three-year project to assist states improve their general policies and practices related to occupational licensing, including those that affect persons with a criminal record. The project brings together 11 states to participate in the Occupational Licensing Learning Consortium. The 11 states are Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Utah and Wisconsin.

We are monitoring this legislative trend and will revise the state profiles and other materials in the Restoration of Rights Project as new laws are enacted.

 

New research report: Four Years of Second Chance Reforms, 2013-2016

Introduction

4 year report coverSince 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.

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Is pardon making a comeback? Probably not, but law reform may be

A recent issue of Governing Magazine reports that pardoning is “making a comeback” after decades of neglect.  It would be nice if it were true.

h2_31.132.34But the evidence of comeback is thin. Almost all of the jurisdictions where pardoning is thriving today are the same ones where it was thriving a decade ago.  In a dozen states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota, pardon has never been neglected, much less abandoned by responsible officials. In these jurisdictions and a handful of others, pardon has deep roots in the justice system and is supported by accountable institutions of government.

It is certainly true that Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jerry Brown of California have made generous use of the power of their office after years in which the pardon power in their states languished unused.  Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is a newcomer to the small group of governors who evidently feel that pardoning is a responsibility of office.  All three are to be commended for it.  But three swallows do not make a summer.

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