Lawmakers introduce bipartisan occupational licensure reform

HARRISBURG, May 22 – State Reps. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., Democratic whip, and Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, were joined by state Sens. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin/Perry, and Judy Schwank, D-Berks, to announce the introduction of bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate aimed at removing employment barriers for formally convicted people.

“We simply can’t continue to judge people by their worst day and hold them back from enriching their lives and the lives of others due to mistakes made in the past that have no impact on someone’s ability to do a job,” Harris said. “This is another step forward in helping those with criminal records re-enter the work force and strengthen our economy, and I’m incredibly appreciative to have this discussion today with bipartisan support from my colleagues.”

“We need consistency in how these boards are evaluating criminal records when issuing occupational licenses,” Delozier said. “People should not be denied opportunities to re-enter the workforce unless their conviction is directly related to the profession.”

Both bills, H.B. 1477 and S.B. 637, would require occupational licensure boards and commissions to apply one common set of rules when considering whether to deny, suspend or revoke a license based on a criminal conviction. Boards and commissions would be directed to only withhold or revoke a license based on convictions that are directly related to the practice of the occupation.

“More than 1 in 5 jobs require a government license and, too often, qualified applicants are denied the right to work because of an old or irrelevant criminal record,” DiSanto said. “By providing pathways to work we reduce recidivism and promote economic opportunity at a time our commonwealth is in need of a skilled work force.”

Senator Schwank added, “Hurting someone’s efforts to become a responsible and successful member of the community after they have paid for their crime is never part of a court’s sentence. It benefits no one and hurts the community along with the individual. We want to add balance and predictability to the occupational license process and enable returning offenders to actually plan and work toward worthwhile goals when they come back to our communities.”

The lawmakers were joined by a diverse group of advocates, including:

  • Brandon Flood, legal redress chair for the Greater Harrisburg NAACP and secretary of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons;
  • Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry;
  • Steve Bloom, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation;
  • Lauren Krisai, senior policy analyst for the Justice Action Network;
  • Brendan Lynch, staff attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

The bills would also direct boards and commissions to consider the nature of the offense, the amount of time that has passed since the conviction, evidence of the applicant’s fitness to practice the occupation and other relevant factors before withholding or revoking a license.

“In Pennsylvania, about sixty percent of parolees are rearrested or reenter the prison system within three years,” Harris said. “I’m confident that this legislation will empower people, remove barriers and reduce Pennsylvania’s high recidivism rate.”

Harris and Delozier worked together last session to pass Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law, which automatically seal records with second- or third-degree misdemeanor offenses and charges that resulted in non-convictions. The first-of-its-kind law has been called a model for national legislation.