Thousands of Pennsylvanians face legal barriers to occupational licenses based on their criminal records. With over two dozen professions requiring a license by the state, many people who are otherwise fully qualified to work in a licensed occupation nevertheless face possible denial of the license due to a conviction – often, for a crime which is old or minor, or which has no relation to the duties of the profession. Criminal records restrictions imposed by licensing boards can be a major barrier to family-sustaining jobs.
Workers often find that their records are barriers to career fields such as nurses, barbers, and beauticians. Aspiring barbers wrote to Community Legal Services in despair after they completed barber training while incarcerated, only to learn that they could not get a barber’s license – all due to long-past convictions unconnected to cutting hair.
Now, the General Assembly is considering two parallel bills with strong bipartisan support – S.B. 637 (DiSanto, R-Dauphin/Perry and Schwank, D-Berks) and H.B. 1477 (Delozier, R-Cumberland and Harris, D-Philadelphia) – to reform occupational licensing and get rid of outdated, unnecessary and counterproductive restrictions. The legislation would help people seeking employment in several ways.
• End blanket bans on people with certain records: People who wish to pursue an occupation, and complete the required training and practice hours, would get individualized consideration of their suitability. These bills would forbid automatic rejection for having a certain conviction on an applicant’s record.
• Allow for preliminary decisions: To ensure that people don’t waste money on training they can’t use, the bills would allow people – prior to taking out student loans and enrolling in classes – to get a preliminary decision on whether their records would preclude a license.
• Require that applicants only be excluded for convictions directly related to practice of profession: Under current law, licensing boards regularly reject applicants for crimes which have nothing to do with the practice of the profession. It is unnecessary and counterproductive when people who have completed their sentences and paid their debts to society are punished all over again by being denied gainful employment. The bills would provide that applicants can only be denied due to convictions that are directly related to the practice of the profession.
• Get rid of vague, outdated and overbroad terms: Many occupational licensing laws mandate consideration of vague, hard to define phrases such as “moral turpitude” and “good moral character.” These bills would require licensing boards to apply one set of specific, concrete rules that are fair and consistent, rather than nebulous, open-ended terms.
We encourage interested parties to call their state senators and urge them to support S.B. 637, and urge their state representatives to support H.B. 1477.
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Occupational Licensing Reform Legislation One-Pager