Kentucky House Bill 124 would reduce occupational licensing barriers for former offenders
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Kentucky House Bill 124 would reduce occupational licensing barriers for former offenders

House Bill 124 would reduce barriers to employment while maintaining the protections appropriate for ensuring public safety.

A version of this public comment was provided to the Kentucky House Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulations Committee on Feb. 28, 2024.

Research consistently indicates that access to gainful employment can be a critical factor in reintegrating former criminal offenders into society and reducing the risk they will reoffend. However, burdensome occupational licensing restrictions often make it difficult for people with criminal records to find work and have been linked to higher rates of property crime and recidivism. Kentucky House Bill 124 would reduce these barriers while maintaining the protections appropriate for ensuring public safety.

An occupational license serves as a government-issued stamp of approval to enter into certain regulated occupations. To obtain a license, workers are typically required to complete training and education requirements, pay fees, and apply for consideration by an appointed board. In addition to these burdensome requirements, state laws and regulations often make it particularly difficult or even impossible for individuals with criminal records to obtain occupational licenses, effectively barring former offenders from potential employment opportunities.

In 2017, Kentucky adopted reforms prohibiting licensing boards from denying licensure unless the applicant’s criminal record directly relates to the occupation for which a license is being sought. Boards must provide individualized consideration of factors, including the passage of time since an applicant’s prior conviction.

The 2017 reforms also prevent boards from denying licensure based on vague assessments of an applicant’s “moral character,” require boards to provide a written explanation for denials, and provide opportunities for applicants to appeal a denial based on their criminal history.

These prior occupational licensing reforms were a good first step, but there is still room for improvement in Kentucky.

For example, it is not always clear whether an individual’s criminal history would preclude them from licensure until they have completed the required education and training and submitted their application. Kentucky HB 124 would create a process by which prospective applicants could receive a determination as to whether their conviction record would make them ineligible for licensure before investing in training and education. At least 23 other states have adopted similar pre-qualification processes to reduce the uncertainty experienced by applicants with prior convictions.

House Bill 124 additionally provides further guidance to licensing boards for determining whether a prior conviction directly relates to the occupation. The legislation would require greater specificity in written denial notices. These changes are consistent with Kentucky’s prior efforts to ensure that applicants are given individualized consideration and have opportunities for reconsideration and appeal.