Illinois House votes to reform health care licensing for ex-offenders
If Gov. Bruce Rauner signs SB 42, ex-offenders would gain the chance to prove their rehabilitation and earn the right to work in medical occupations.
The Illinois House voted May 26 to pass Senate Bill 42, a bill that would allow those with certain felony convictions, such as burglary, to apply to work in health care professions after a post-conviction waiting period. It now goes to back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and then to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk for final approval.
The health care worker license is required for anyone who wants to work as a nurse in Illinois. If the governor signs the SB 42 into law, applicants with felony records would be allowed to apply for this license after waiting either five years from the date of their after conviction or three years after being released from prison, whichever length of time is greater.
While it opens up opportunity, SB 42 also maintains strict limits on acquiring a health care license that protect public safety. For example, anyone convicted of a felony requiring registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act is ineligible, even after a waiting period.
Additionally, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation would still have discretion to reject an application if the applicant has not demonstrated he or she is fully rehabilitated. After an ex-offender’s application is received, the licensing board will consider factors such as the seriousness of the offense, whether the applicant has a history of criminal behavior, whether restitution was made to a victim, and signs of rehabilitation before deciding whether to grant the application.
Though it’s not perfect, SB 42 is a step in the right direction, and would be a significant and positive change for real people like Lisa Creason.
Creason, a mother of three, made mistakes earlier in life, but turned things around. Over 20 years ago, at the age of 19, Creason tried to steal money from a Subway cash register so she could feed her daughter. She was charged with a forcible felony and served a year in prison for her crime.
Since then, however, she’s put herself on the right track. She started a nonprofit to fight youth violence in Decatur, Ill. She went back to school and completed a nursing degree while raising her children and working as a certified nursing assistant, or CNA. Her goal was to become a registered nurse, which would allow her to advance in a career she loves and afford a better life for her children.
The current licensing law denies Lisa and others like her from even being considered for a health care license. As a result, she’s stuck in a lower paying occupation and is stuck on government assistance.
But SB 42 would give Creason and others with records a chance to do the work they were trained for.
One major reason for the high recidivism rate is a lack of employment. Without work, former offenders are likelier to resort to crime to make ends meet, perpetuating a cycle of incarceration. Survey data have suggested that as many as 60 to 75 percent of former offenders are unemployed a year after their release.
Employment makes a real difference. A study by the nonpartisan Urban Institute found that former offenders employed within two months of release were less likely to be incarcerated a year later. Studies by the Safer Foundation showed Illinois ex-offenders who are employed a year after release can have a recidivism rate as low as 16 percent.
But when government makes it excessively difficult for ex-offenders to find work through bans on licensing, it exacerbates the problems ex-offenders have reintegrating into society and becoming self-sufficient. People with criminal records may or must be denied at least 118 professional and business licenses, which make it less likely they’ll be able to support themselves and their families.
That’s why the state needs reforms, like those in SB 42, that make employment possible.
The more people who have access to work and employment, the less money taxpayers will have to spend on Illinois’ corrections system, and the safer Illinois’ streets will be. Expanding economic opportunity through licensing reform is a common-sense way to improve public safety and advance economic growth.