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Michigan Reforms Licensing Laws to Help People with Criminal Records Find Work

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of bills Monday that will make it much easier for people with criminal records to become licensed in their chosen field. By imposing significant costs in terms of time and money, licensing laws often create substantial hurdles to worker mobility and prisoner reentry. For instance, the average license for lower- and middle-income occupations in Michigan requires paying $242 in fees, finishing 255 days of training and experience, and passing two exams.

The bill package (HB 4888-4492) targets Michigan’s requirement that applicants must have “good moral character” in order to obtain occupational licenses–an often vague and arbitrary standard. Under the reform, licensing boards will only be able to disqualify applicants for lacking good moral character if they have been convicted of a felony that has a “direct and specific relationship” to the license sought or poses a “demonstrable risk to public safety.” Boards will also be required to consider an applicant’s evidence of rehabilitation, their employment history, any testimonials on their behalf, as well as the time elapsed since the crime was committed.

Previously, Michigan had mediocre protections for ex-offenders seeking licenses to work, receiving a C in a recent report by the Institute for Justice, Barred from Working. But thanks to the newly signed bills, that grade will rise to a B-, placing Michigan’s laws among the top 10 in the nation. (Neighboring Indiana ranks as the best overall, earning the report’s only A grade.) With this reform, Michigan joins 33 other states that have eased licensing barriers for ex-offenders since 2015.

“An honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work,” said IJ Legislative Analyst Nick Sibilla, who authored the report. “These bills will eliminate many licensing barriers that have little basis in common sense and unfairly deny countless Michiganders looking for a fresh start.”

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