Rauner signs occupational licensing reform into law
On Aug. 22, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a bill that prevents the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation from using irrelevant criminal convictions as a basis for denying licenses to applicants seeking to work as barbers, cosmetologists, hair braiders, estheticians, nail technicians, roofing business owners or funeral directors.
Illinois has taken a big step toward expanding access to work and employment for people seeking work after prison – achieving a major win for ex-offenders, taxpayers and safer communities.
On Aug. 22, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 5973 into law. This legislation prohibits the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation from barring former offenders from working as barbers, cosmetologists, hair braiders, estheticians, nail technicians, roofing business owners or funeral directors – unless they’ve been convicted of a crime “directly related” to the practice of that occupation. “Directly related” offenses that could disqualify a person from obtaining a license include sex offenses and other serious violent crimes, which are listed in the statute. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017.
This law marks a major improvement in opening employment opportunities to ex-offenders. Illinois law contains thousands of felonies, according to a searchable database of felony offenses from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Before this law was signed, any of these could have served as a basis to deny applicants licenses to work in these fields. The list of possible offenses has now been reduced to a couple dozen, and offenders convicted of any “directly related” offenses will still have a chance to show they’ve rehabilitated.
National survey data show ex-offenders struggle to find work: Between 60 and 75 percent of former offenders are still unemployed a year after exiting prison, which in turn leads many to return to crime after release, inflicting harm on more victims and costing taxpayers billions. Expanding access to licensed occupations can help. Barbering and roofing – fields to which this law expands access – have faster-than-average jobs growth rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By lifting these barriers, Illinois can enable ex-offenders to find work in occupations where employment is growing.
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.
This bill is only a first step – there are about 118 professional and occupational licenses that can be denied to applicants on the basis of a criminal record. Lawmakers will also need to address barriers to licensing in fields such as real estate, interior design, accounting, dental hygiene and other blue- and white-collar professions to significantly expand employment opportunities.
Criminal-justice reform depends on helping former offenders become successful, contributing members of their communities – and employment is critical to making this happen. The fewer barriers the state puts between ex-offenders and gainful employment, the more likely it is that former offenders will find work, support their families and successfully turn their lives around.