General Assembly passes occupational-licensing reform

June 1, 2016
By Bryant Jackson-Green

HB 5973 would remove significant occupational-licensing barriers, thereby making it easier for former offenders to support themselves and their families – and making it less likely ex-offenders will commit crimes in the future.

The Illinois General Assembly has taken a major step toward reforming the state’s counterproductive occupational-licensing laws: The Illinois House of Representatives passed House Bill 5973 on May 31. HB 5973 would prohibit the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, or IDFPR, from barring former offenders from working in certain fields unless their crimes directly relate to the occupations for which they seek licenses. As the Illinois Senate already approved this bill May 27, it has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and now heads to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk for his signature.

HB 5973, sponsored by Illinois state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, addresses licensing in seven fields: barbering, cosmetology, esthetics, hair braiding, nail technology, roofing and funeral service. Under current law, IDFPR can deny persons with criminal records the right to support themselves and earn a living in these fields legally.

In fact, there are at least 118 occupational and professional licenses that may or must be denied to anyone with a felony – and in some cases, a misdemeanor – record.

But the more barriers the state puts between ex-offenders and gainful employment, the more likely it is former offenders will stay locked out of legal markets – and remain stuck in a cycle of crime and incarceration. Each year, more than 30,000 offenders complete their sentences and leave Illinois prisons. One of the best predictors of success after prison is the ability to find work. Studies by the Urban Institute and the Safer Foundation show that ex-offenders who get jobs after release are less likely to commit crimes in the future and are more likely to be self-sufficient, contributing members of society.

That’s why reforming occupational-licensing laws to remove barriers to employment is one of the main recommendations to come out of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

To be sure, this bill is only a first step. But HB 5973 is a significant step in the right direction. Barbering and roofing, for example, have faster-than-average jobs growth rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By removing barriers in these fields, Illinois can enable ex-offenders to find work in occupations where employment is growing.

To achieve Rauner’s goal of reducing the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025, the state will need to reduce the number of people returning to prison after incarceration. Today, 48 percent of ex-offenders are incarcerated again within three years. Reforming occupational licensing won’t fix everything, but by removing barriers to work, Illinois can give former offenders a better chance at economic success – and staying away from crime.

TAGS: criminal justice reform, occupational licensing