Phillip Suderman · April 25, 2024


CONTACT: Phillip Suderman, [email protected], (850) 376-4110

ARLINGTON, Va.—On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed HB 1859, a bill preventing licensing boards from using vague terms to deny an applicant a license.

Occupational licenses are permits issued by the government that lets someone work in a particular field. They are required for occupations ranging from cosmetologists to engineers to skilled tradesman. These licenses often require a certain amount of hours for training or education, but some licenses also require applicants to demonstrate “good moral character” or “character and fitness” without defining those terms—leaving their use up to the board or individual tasked with approving a license application.

This bill will help applicants with criminal records avoid licensure denial for arbitrary reasons. It also highlights the need for occupational licensing reform overall.

Occupational licenses have been growing in number and have increased their education and experience requirements. In Tennessee, more than one out of five workers must now get an occupational license before they can legally do their jobs, even though research has shown that many of these licenses don’t improve quality or health and safety standards.

Traditional blue-collar work is among the largest areas where occupational licensing is proliferating, creating barriers for many people without college degrees from obtaining a job. According to the Institute for Justice’s report, License to Work, the average license for low- and moderate-income jobs in Tennessee takes 245 days of education and experience. The Institute for Justice has also estimated that occupational licenses cost Tennessee’s labor market 46,000 fewer jobs each year.

“This bill will help make sure that people with criminal records aren’t being arbitrarily shut out of jobs based on vague standards that provide no real benefit,” said Meagan Forbes, director of legislation and senior legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice. “Research shows that a job is one of the best ways to prevent recidivism. This bill will give returning citizens a fair chance at finding work.”

The Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty. Since 1991, IJ has worked to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. IJ is the nation’s leader in working to reform burdensome occupational licensing standards across the nation.

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To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may contact Phillip Suderman, IJ’s Communications Project Manager, at [email protected], (850) 376-4110. More information on IJ’s work on occupational licensing is available at: