Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · May 9, 2023

COLUMBIA, S.C.—South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster yesterday signed the Earn and Learn Act, H. 3605, a bill that will remove barriers to occupational licenses for ex-offenders. The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm that defends economic liberty, supported the bill through the legislative process.

“Research shows that a job is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism,” said Meagan Forbes, IJ Director of Legislation and Senior Legislative Counsel. “This bill will remove arbitrary licensing barriers that unfairly prevent people with criminal records from accessing jobs and seeking a fresh start.”

Nearly one out of every five workers in the state needs a license to work. And in South Carolina, boards could deny licenses to anyone they deem “unfit or unsuited to engage in the profession or occupation.” South Carolina was also one of just 13 states where applicants could be disqualified from a license even if they’ve been rehabilitated — a policy that clearly undermines reentry and reintegration.

H. 3605 improves the standards licensing boards use to deny licenses to people with criminal records by preventing boards from denying licenses to ex-offenders unless their criminal record “directly relates to the duties, responsibilities, or fitness of the occupation or profession.” The law also bans boards from using vague terms like “good moral character” and “moral turpitude” to deny applicants.

Research has routinely found that steady employment is one of the best ways to prevent reoffending. By unfairly excluding otherwise qualified individuals, South Carolina’s licensing barriers may actually worsen public safety. For instance, an Arizona State University study found that states with stricter licensing laws have rising rates of recidivism when compared to states with less burdensome licensing laws. Overall, “the occupational licensing burden was second only to the overall labor market conditions” for impacting a state’s recidivism rate.

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Earning 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, thwarting their chances of successful reentry.