Illinois legislation looks to reduce employment barriers for people with criminal histories
|Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 10:35 AM
Each year in Illinois, around 30,000 adults return home from state correctional facilities, many in search of jobs.
To reduce employment barriers for people with criminal records, lawmakers have changed the way Illinois’ professional licensing body reviews applications for certain occupations.
Under a law enacted last year, the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation must now consider “mitigating factors” surrounding a criminal conviction before denying an application for eightoccupations: funeral directing and embalming; barbering; cosmetology; esthetics; hair braiding; nail technology; and roofing.
The mitigating factors include whether the individual’s criminal offense would have any impact on his or her fitness for the occupation, how much time has elapsed since the conviction, and the person’s age at the time of the conviction.
Prior to the law’s passage, license applications from people with criminal histories would either be denied outright or be left pending for an indeterminate amount of time, says Rep. Marcus Evans, who sponsored the legislation (HB 5973) in 2016. He hopes the new review process will attract people who may have been deterred from applying for a license in the past.
“A lot of folks didn’t even have the courage to apply because they assumed they would be denied based on their background,” Evans says.
To track the law’s impact, the department must report annually (starting next year) on the number of applicants with criminal convictions who were granted and denied licenses in the eight occupations.
Nationwide, many state laws on occupational and business licensing exclude applicants with felony convictions. The American Bar Association documents an estimated 32,000 licensing laws that include consideration of an individual’s criminal record; of these, more than one-third automatically exclude felons, The Council of State Governments Justice Center notes in a 2015 study.
“It’s like people are serving an additional sentence outside of jail or probation,” Evans says.
This year, Evans has introduced two bills (HB 2752 and 3822) that would create a similar licensing process for more than a dozen additional occupations, including dance hall managers, landfill operators, livestock dealers and insurance agents. These measures would require the state to provide written notice to license applicants who are denied based on their criminal history.
Also under consideration are HB 3342, which would reduce licensing barriers for health care workers, and HB 3395, which would do so for emergency medical technicians, acupuncturists, athletic trainers, social workers, dietitians and nurse practitioners.
At least four other states in the Midwest (Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio) have adopted laws in recent years to improve licensing opportunities for people with criminal records.