A Criminal Justice Reform in Occupational Licensing
Criminal justice reform has been a popular topic in the policy world for the last few years, but before we look too far ahead to the next reforms, it’s worth reminding ourselves that Missouri lawmakers actually passed some good criminal justice reforms fairly recently. Along with the highly praised licensing reciprocity legislation, Missouri lawmakers instituted the Fresh Start Act of 2020.
Back in 2019, Institute researchers highlighted Fresh Start Act legislation that other states had passed before Missouri passed its own version the following year. The Fresh Start Act modifies occupational licensing regulations for workers with a criminal record to make it easier for the formerly incarcerated to find gainful employment.
What does that matter? Well, strict occupational licensing rules for those who have criminal records can make it harder for those with a checkered past to find work. Not only can that impede successful re-entry efforts, but it limits the supply of workers. The Fresh Start Act does not allow criminal records to disqualify an individual from receiving an occupational license unless the criminal conviction directly relates to the occupation (an individual with a conviction relating to children would not be able to obtain a teaching license, for example). But for the vast majority of former inmates, relaxing licensing rules is a good thing.
Licensing burdens are, of course, a problem for many seeking work, but those with criminal records are particularly at risk for being written out of entire sectors of the economy. State legislatures have started addressing this problem; since 2015, 38 states, including Missouri, have reformed their occupational licensing laws to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work in industries in which the state requires an occupational license to operate.
The Fresh Start Act may seem like a small thing, but for the formerly incarcerated, it could mean the world. More should be done on licensing in general—including the regular sunsetting of all licensing regimes —but this legislation was a good step.