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Missouri Eases Barriers to Work for Ex-Offenders, Expands Out-of-State License Recognition

New legislation signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Monday will make it much easier for out-of-state workers and 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, according to a report the Institute for Justice, the average license for lower- and middle-income occupations in Missouri requires paying $179 in fees, finishing 348 days of training and experience, and passing one exam.

In order to ease these barriers to work, under HB2046 anyone who has had an out-of-state license for at least one year can apply for an equivalent license in Missouri. Sponsored by state Rep. Derek Grier, the new law also repeals provisions that greatly limited the effectiveness of the state’s prior license recognition: It scraps a requirement that only allowed recognition to licenses with “substantially similar” requirements as well as a provision that enabled licensing boards to deny waivers based on a vague belief that granting a license to an out-of-state worker would “endanger the public health, safety, or welfare.”

HB 2046 follows in the footsteps of Arizona which became the first state to enact universal recognition for out-of-state licenses last year. But unlike the Arizona law, Missouri’s license recognition doesn’t impose a residency requirement on newcomers, letting out-of-state licensees apply for a new Missouri license before they move.

“Workers don’t lose their job skills just by moving across state lines, but licensing laws often treat them as if they do,” said Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Meagan Forbes. “HB 2046 is a common-sense reform that will help expand economic opportunity by making it easier for people to move to Missouri to further their careers.”

HB 2046 also contains the Fresh Start Act, which will ease many licensing restrictions that block otherwise qualified ex-offenders from working. Today, roughly one in three Americans has a criminal record of some kind, while in 2018 alone, almost 20,000 people were released from prison in Missouri.

Under HB 2046, boards will now be required to consider evidence of rehabilitation and must bear the burden of proof that an applicant’s criminal record “directly relates” to the license sought. The new law also creates a petition process so that ex-offenders can see if their criminal record would be disqualifying, before they invest in any potentially expensive or time-consuming training or coursework. Although HB 2046 is a substantial improvement, it doesn’t apply to multiple licensing boards, including those governing teachers, medical and white-collar professions.

Previously, Missouri had some of the weakest protections for ex-offenders seeking licenses to work, according to a new report by the Institute for Justice, Barred from Working. But thanks to HB 2046, the state’s grade has soared from a D- to a B-, which places Missouri among the top 10 best states nationwide. With this reform, Missouri is now the 32nd state that has 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. “HB 2046 will eliminate many licensing barriers that have little basis in common sense and unfairly deny a fresh start to countless Missourians.”

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