NOTE: Governor Pritzker signed S1480 into law on March 23.
In our recent report on criminal record reforms enacted in 2020, we noted that there were only four states that had fully incorporated criminal record into their fair employment law as a prohibited basis of discrimination. These states (New York, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and California) provide that employers can only disqualify a person based on their record if it meets a specific standard, such as being related to the work in question or posing an unreasonable risk to public safety. Illinois will become the fifth state to take this important step as soon as Governor Pritzker signs S1480.
Illinois has been working up to this, having amended its Human Rights Act in 2019 to prohibit employment discrimination based on “an arrest not leading to a conviction, a juvenile record, or criminal history record information ordered expunged, sealed, or impounded.” With S1480, Illinois has now taken the final step of incorporating criminal record fully into the law’s structure, which includes authorization to file a lawsuit in the event administrative enforcement is unsatisfactory. A preliminary analysis of the new Illinois law indicates that it now offers more protection for more people with a criminal record in the employment context than any state in the Nation other than California.
The provisions of the Illinois bill, enrolled and sent to the governor for signature on February 12, are described below. We then compare them with the laws in the four other states that incorporate criminal record into their fair employment law. This post notes the handful of additional states that have fortified their record-related employment protections in recent years, then summarizes relevant reforms that were enacted in 2020.
This is the first in a series of comments describing some of the 153 laws passed in 2019 restoring rights or delivering record relief in various ways. The full report on 2019 laws is available here.
Restoration of Civil Rights
In 2019, eleven states took steps to restore the right to vote and to expand awareness of voting eligibility. Our experience is that many people convicted of a felony believe they are disqualified from voting when they are not: almost every state restores voting rights automatically to most convicted individuals at some point, if they are even disenfranchised to begin with.
The most significant new re-enfranchisement laws were enacted in Colorado, Nevada and New Jersey, where convicted individuals are now eligible to vote except when actually incarcerated. Colorado restored the vote to persons on parole supervision, while Nevada revised its complex system for restoring civil rights so that all people with felony convictions may now vote except while in prison. In one of the final legislative acts of 2019, New Jersey’s governor signed a law limiting disenfranchisement to a period of actual incarceration, even in cases where a court has ordered loss of the vote for election law violations, immediately restoring the vote to 80,000 people. These three states joined the two states (New York and Louisiana) that in 2018 took steps to limit disenfranchisement to a period of incarceration: New York’s governor issued the first of a series of executive orders under his pardon power restoring the vote to individuals on parole, and Louisiana passed a law allowing people to register if they have been out of prison for at least five years.
Now, only three of the 19 states that disenfranchise only those sentenced to prison still extend ineligibility through completion of parole: California, Connecticut, and Idaho. Bills under consideration in 2019 in both California and Connecticut would allow people to vote once they leave prison, though in California this will require a constitutional amendment.
Kentucky saw perhaps the most dramatic extension of the franchise in 2019, when its incoming governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order restoring the vote and eligibility for office to an estimated 140,000 individuals convicted of non-violent felonies who had completed their sentences. Before the order, individuals were required to petition the governor individually to obtain restoration of their voting rights. (Governor Beshear’s father had issued a similar order in 2015 at the end of his own term as governor, but it was revoked by his successor.) Iowa is now the only state that does not restore the vote automatically to most convicted individuals at some point.
In July we reported on the extraordinary number of new laws enacted in the first half of 2019 aimed at restoring rights and status after arrest and conviction. A total of 97 separate pieces of legislation, some covering multiple topics, were enacted by 38 states and many broke new ground in their jurisdictions. Moreover, clear trends begun in 2018 accelerated in the first half of 2019, as state lawmakers continued to focus most of their attention on facilitating access to record-clearing. In addition, a significant number of new laws limited the authority of occupational licensing boards to disqualify a person based on criminal record. Another area of progress was restoring voting rights.
Those trends continued over the summer, with 17 new laws, including significant laws enacted to regulate occupational licensing and expand record relief, including but not limited to marijuana convictions. Several states showed a keen interest in exploring the possibility of automating record relief, although only one state actually enacted an automatic relief system by the end of the quarter (New York, for marijuana convictions). (California enacted a “clean slate” law shortly after the beginning of the fourth quarter.) At the end of the third quarter, Arkansas, Colorado and Florida were studying the feasibility of automating relief, North Carolina was considering automatic expunction of non-conviction records, and the Governor of New Jersey was attempting to persuade his legislature to adopt an automated system for convictions as well as non-convictions.)
By the end of the third quarter of 2019, 42 states had enacted an unprecedented total of 114 laws restoring rights and status, and more new laws on the horizon.
All of the laws described briefly below are more fully analyzed in the context of the state’s overall restoration scheme, in the detailed profiles of the Restoration of Rights Project.
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 Indiana, Kansas, 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).
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.
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.
In an important decision for firearms-related collateral consequences, the New Hampshire Supreme Court relied on the Second Amendment to carve out an exception to the so-called federal felon-in-possession statute, declining to follow relevant federal court precedents. At stake is whether state or federal courts have the last word on the scope of the exceptions in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20). In DuPont v. Nashua Police Department, the court held that a man convicted of a misdemeanor DUI, who as a result lost his right to possess a firearm under state and federal law, was able to avoid federal firearms disability by virtue of the restoration of his state firearms rights, even though he lost none of the traditional “core” civil rights (vote, office, jury). In order to get to this result, the court had to conclude that the right to possess a firearm is itself a civil right, whose loss and restoration under state law is sufficient to satisfy the “civil rights restored” requirement in 921(a)(20), thus creating a narrow but significant exception to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Logan v. United States.
While the holding in DuPont applies only to a limited class of misdemeanants (those who lost and regained state firearms rights), the decision may be the opening salvo in a state backlash against federal efforts to define the scope of state relief recognized in 921(a)(20).
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003) and Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003), state courts are coming to different conclusions under their own constitutions about whether sex offender registration and notification laws constitute punishment for purposes of due process and ex post facto analysis. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the most recent to invalidate mandatory registration requirements imposed on juveniles, but several state supreme courts have limited the retroactive application of registration requirements to adults under an ex post facto analysis.