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State Occupational Licensing Reforms for Workers with Criminal Records

Today, one out of every five Americans needs a license to work while 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record. Since 2015, 37 states and Washington, D.C. have reformed their occupational licensing laws to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work in state-licensed fields:

  1. Arizona (enacted reforms in 2018, 2019, and 2021)
  2. Arkansas (2019)
  3. California (enacted two reforms in 2018)
  4. Colorado (2018)
  5. Connecticut (2017)
  6. Delaware (2018)
  7. Florida (2019)
  8. Georgia (2016)
  9. Idaho (2020)
  10. Illinois (enacted several reforms in 2016 and 2017)
  11. Indiana (2018)
  12. Iowa (enacted reforms in 2019 and 2020)
  13. Kansas (2018)
  14. Kentucky (2017)
  15. Louisiana (2017)
  16. Massachusetts (2018)
  17. Maryland (enacted reforms in 2018 and 2019)
  18. Michigan (2021)
  19. Mississippi (2019)
  20. Missouri (2020)
  21. Nebraska (2018)
  22. New Hampshire (2018)
  23. New Jersey (2021)
  24. New Mexico (2021)
  25. New York (2019)
  26. North Carolina (2019)
  27. Ohio (enacted reforms in 2019 and 2021)
  28. Oklahoma (enacted reforms in 2015 and 2019)
  29. Pennsylvania (2020)
  30. Rhode Island (enacted reforms in 2020 and 2021)
  31. Tennessee (enacted reforms in 2016 and 2018)
  32. Texas (enacted several reforms in 2019)
  33. Utah (enacted reforms in 2019 and 2020)
  34. Washington (2021)
  35. West Virginia (enacted reforms in 2019 and 2020)
  36. Wisconsin (2018)
  37. Wyoming (2018)

Eighteen states, plus Washington, D.C., allow ex-offenders to petition a licensing board at any time, including before enrolling in any required training, to determine if their record would be disqualifying:

  1. Arizona
  2. Arkansas
  3. Idaho
  4. Indiana
  5. Iowa
  6. Mississippi 
  7. Missouri
  8. Nebraska
  9. New Hampshire
  10. North Carolina
  11. Ohio
  12. Oklahoma
  13. Tennessee
  14. Texas
  15. Utah
  16. Washington
  17. West Virginia 
  18. Wisconsin

Seventeen states generally prevent licensing boards from using vague standards like “good moral character” or “moral turpitude” to deny licenses for ex-offenders:

  1. Arkansas
  2. California
  3. Idaho
  4. Illinois
  5. Indiana
  6. Iowa
  7. Kansas
  8. Kentucky
  9. Minnesota
  10. Mississippi 
  11. New Mexico
  12. New York
  13. North Carolina
  14. Ohio
  15. Pennsylvania
  16. Washington
  17. West Virginia

Likewise, five states—Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia—removed moral character requirements from many of their licenses but did not enact an overarching ban.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia block licensing boards from denying ex-offenders a license to work, unless the board determines that the applicant’s criminal record is “directly related” to the license sought:

  1. Colorado
  2. Florida
  3. Georgia
  4. Illinois
  5. Indiana
  6. Iowa
  7. Kansas
  8. Kentucky
  9. Michigan
  10. Minnesota
  11. Mississippi
  12. New Hampshire
  13. New Mexico
  14. North Dakota
  15. Ohio
  16. Tennessee
  17. Washington
  18. Wyoming

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. expressly ban boards from considering arrests that did not result in a conviction:

  1. Arizona
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Colorado
  5. Connecticut
  6. Illinois
  7. Indiana
  8. Iowa
  9. Kansas
  10. Michigan
  11. Minnesota
  12. New Hampshire
  13. New Mexico
  14. New York
  15. Ohio
  16. Rhode Island
  17. Texas
  18. Utah
  19. Wisconsin

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. prohibit boards from using  annulled, erased, expunged, sealed, or vacated records to disqualify applicants:

  1. Arizona
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Colorado
  5. Connecticut
  6. Hawaii
  7. Illinois
  8. Indiana
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Michigan
  11. Minnesota
  12. New Hampshire
  13. New Mexico
  14. New York
  15. Ohio
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Pennsylvania
  18. Rhode Island

Ten states, plus Washington, D.C. have instituted new reporting requirements:

  1. California
  2. Florida
  3. Illinois
  4. Maryland
  5. New Jersey
  6. New Mexico
  7. North Carolina
  8. Ohio
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Rhode Island

For more information on individual state laws, read IJs Barred from Working: A Nationwide Study of Occupational Licensing Barriers for Ex-Offenders.

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