Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on Tuesday that he signed a bill (HB 639) that will make it much easier for people with criminal records to become licensed in their chosen field. Previously, Louisiana had abysmal protections for ex-offenders seeking licenses to work, receiving a D- in a recent report by the Institute for Justice, Barred from Working. But with the governor’s signature, that grade will jump to a B-.
“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 Counsel Meagan Forbes, who submitted testimony in favor of the bill. “This bill will make it much easier for Louisianans searching for a fresh start.”
On paper, Louisiana had a stringent standard: Ex-offenders could only be barred from working if they were convicted of a crime that “directly relates” to the license sought. Unfortunately, this was undermined by multiple loopholes. Louisiana expressly exempted well over a dozen different licensing boards and agencies from the state’s protections for ex-offenders. That meant fields as diverse as education, nursing, and massage therapy were off-limits, no matter how old or irrelevant a person’s criminal history was.
Even for other licensing boards, they were free to reject any applicant who had ever been convicted of any “crime of violence,” a broad category that includes misdemeanors like purse snatching. Nor were licensing boards required to consider whether or not a person had been rehabilitated.
HB 639 closes these loopholes. Aside from licenses involving gaming, racing, state police, and corrections officers, applicants can only be denied a license if they were convicted of a directly related crime and if they failed to provide evidence of rehabilitation. In addition, the new Louisiana law creates a petition process that will let ex-offenders know if their criminal record would be disqualifying, before they invest in any potentially expensive or time-consuming training or coursework.
By imposing significant costs in terms of time and money, licensing laws often create substantial hurdles to worker mobility and prisoner reentry. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, Louisiana ranked as the sixth “most broadly and onerously licensed state.” On average, a license for lower- and middle-income occupations in Louisiana requires paying $360 in fees, finishing 202 days of training and experience, and passing two exams.
Since 2015, nearly 40 states have removed licensing barriers for ex-offenders.
Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing
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.