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Occupational license bill for people with criminal histories passes in PA House, Senate


Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania State Senate and House both voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 637, a sweeping occupational licensing overhaul that will help reduce recidivism and get Pennsylvanians back to work as the economy begins to reopen.

This historic, bipartisan legislation ends the practice of automatically denying occupational licenses to those with certain convictions, while ensuring that individuals with criminal histories would only have an occupational license withheld if their convictions are directly related to said occupation after individualized reviews, or if they pose a substantial risk to health and safety.

Click Here to see the last article about this topic, which described how polls show that there is bipartisan support for this kind of criminal justice reform.

The bill, introduced by Senators John DiSanto (R-15) and Judy Schwank (D-11), and spearheaded through the House by Representatives Sheryl Delozier (R-88) and Jordan Harris (D-186), now heads to Governor Wolf for his signature.

This legislation – years in the making — comes at a time when the economy is beginning to recover from COVID-19, but more than 13% of Pennsylvanians remain unemployed. Amid historic unemployment, individuals charged with minor, low-level offenses are locked out of the labor market – as nearly a quarter of jobs require a license or other form of government permission to work.

In Pennsylvania alone, there are 29 boards and commissions regulating 255 different types of licenses and over 1 million licensees. This includes a wide variety of jobs, including barbers, hairstylists, healthcare workers, business owners, and even careers that you might not expect would need a license, like auctioneers.

Senate Bill 637 ensures:

  • Convictions will not automatically preclude the issuance of a license;
  • Only those convictions that directly relate to the underlying occupation or pose a substantial risk to health and safety will be considered by a licensing board;
  • Applicants will receive individual assessments by licensing boards, including the particular facts and circumstances of the crime, the length of time since it occurred, and the grade and seriousness of the crime;
  • Applicants can request preliminary reviews to determine if their criminal record would make them ineligible for a license before undertaking expensive training or education;
  • Boards and commissions will determine and make public the convictions that directly relate to the duties of the occupations they oversee, providing critically needed clarity to potential applicants; and,
  • Blanket prohibitions on licenses for those with certain criminal records will be eliminated from several licensing statutes.

“Now more than ever, Pennsylvanians need less red tape and bureaucracy to help get the economy moving and get people back to work,” said Jenna Moll, Deputy Director of Justice Action Network. “In a reality where a quarter of jobs require an occupational license, Senate Bill 637, opens up a critical lifeline to individuals charged with minor, non-violent offenses that are looking to turn their lives around. As the economy opens back up, it’s critical that the economic recovery includes all Pennsylvanians – and that includes the millions of people impacted by the justice system. I’d like to thank Senator DiSanto, Senator Schwank, Representative Delozier, and Representative Harris for spearheading this historic legislation, and we look forward to seeing Governor Wolf sign it into law.”

Listen to the full interview with Jenna Moll, deputy director of Justice Action Network.