This year is turning out to be another remarkable year for new record relief enactments. In just the first six months of 2021, 25 states enacted no fewer than 51 laws authorizing sealing or expungement of criminal records, with another 5 states enrolling 11 bills that await a governor’s signature. Three of these states authorized sealing of convictions for the first time, seven states passed laws (or enrolled bills) providing authority for automatic sealing, and a number of additional states substantially expanded the reach of their existing expungement laws.
This post hits the highlights of what may well be the most extraordinary six-month period in the extraordinary modern period of criminal record reform that begin in 2013. The only closely comparable period is the first six months of 2018, when 11 states enacted major reforms limiting consideration of criminal records in occupational licensing. Further details of the laws mentioned below can be found in the relevant state profiles from the Restoration of Rights Project.
(An earlier post noted new occupational licensing laws in 2021, and subsequent ones will describe significant extensions of the right to vote so far this year, and summarize the more than 100 record reforms enacted to date.) Read more
In the first five months of 2021, seven states and the District of Columbia enacted nine separate laws improving opportunities for people with a criminal record to obtain occupational licenses. This continues a four-year trend begun in 2017 that has seen 33 states and the District of Columbia enact 54 separate laws regulating consideration of criminal record in the licensing process.
Our report on new legislation in 2020 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.” Laws enacted during this four-year period have “transformed the licensing policy landscape across the Nation and opened opportunities in regulated professions for many thousands of people.” The only period of law reform that rivals the present one came during the early 1970s, when many of the laws now being revised and extended were first enacted. The effectiveness of advocacy efforts by the Institute for Justice and National Employment Law Project in influencing this trend cannot be overstated.
So far during 2021, the U.S. jurisdiction to have enacted the most ambitious and comprehensive licensing scheme is the District of Columbia, and its new law (described in detail below) is one of the most progressive in the nation. New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington had not previously legislated in this area for many years, and all three extended and improved laws first enacted in the 1970s. Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee extended recently enacted laws, with Arizona legislating for the fourth time in this area in as many years!
The nine new laws are described below, and have been added to the state profiles and 50-state charts of the Restoration of Rights Project.
This is the title of a provocative new article by Cara Suvall, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School, and Director of the Youth Opportunity Clinic. The article, forthcoming in the Cardozo Law Review, catalogues and analyzes the costs and burdens that deter people from accessing certificates intended to enhance employment opportunities. Professor Suvall focuses particular attention on certificate programs in Tennessee, Georgia, and New York, which vary widely in eligibility criteria, administration, and legal effect. She highlights the learning, compliance, and psychological barriers that limit effectiveness of existing certificate programs, and describes proposals to lower those barriers.
Here is the abstract:
Policymakers around the country are grappling with how to provide a second chance to people with criminal records. These records create collateral consequences—invisible punishments that inhibit opportunity in all facets of a person’s life. Over the past seven years, states have repeatedly tried to legislate new paths for people trying to move on with their lives. State legislators passed more than 150 laws targeting collateral consequences in 2019 alone.
But what happens when these paths to second chances are littered with learning, compliance, and psychological costs? The people who most need these new opportunities may find that they are out of reach. A major problem, I argue, is the administrative burdens involved in accessing these remedies. Because of these hurdles, people with fewer resources—the population that would most benefit from the help—are the ones most likely to find these second chances out of reach. The Article closely examines one increasingly popular type of second-chance program: certificate laws that remove employment barriers.
Building on recent research identifying the low usage rates of petition-based second-chance programs, this Article catalogues and analyzes the costs and burdens placed on people attempting to access employment certificates. Of particular concern is not only these low usage rates themselves, but also the identity of those least likely to access these interventions. Second-chance programs like employment certificates that provide a way forward for people with greater resources while leaving behind those without may be more harmful than helpful when placed in the larger context of mass criminalization and social change, even if they help the small number of individuals who do access them. In contrast, a well-designed second-chance initiative that appropriately considers administrative burdens and the way that interventions like employment certificates fit in to the broader picture of social change could provide short-term benefits to people with criminal records while also bolstering larger-scale reforms to the criminal legal system.
We have completed an overhaul of our 50-State chart on relief from sex offender registration obligations, to bring it up to date and ensure that it is thorough and accurate. This chart documents the duration of sex offender registration requirements, as well as legal mechanisms for early termination from such requirements.
In conducting this review, we have identified a handful of states that have, since the chart was last revised in November 2017, expanded the availability of relief from sex offender registration requirements, including for people who have successfully completed diversionary dispositions, people with serious disabilities, and people who are registered based on out-of-state offenses. These recent changes in the law, incorporated in the chart, are summarized below. Read more
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.
The trend toward expanding expungement and sealing laws is continuing. In the last week of April, the governors of Maryland and Oklahoma signed bills enlarging eligibility criteria and reducing waiting periods, joining Florida and Utah with new record-sealing enactments in 2018. The provisions of these two newest laws are described below. Similar legislation is well along in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont. Vermont S 173, enrolled and awaiting the governor’s signature, is of particular interest since it makes expungement automatic in some categories without the requirement of a petition or filing fee (“unless either party objects in the interest of justice”). We are tracking these pending bills and will add them to the Restoration of Rights Project if and when they are enacted.
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.
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.