PennLive: Jan Murphy - July 1, 2020
People with a criminal history who want to work in state-regulated occupations in Pennsylvania such as nursing or as a hair stylists will soon find their past is not holding them up from starting a career.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law on Wednesday a bill that overhauls the state’s outdated occupational licensing laws that previously denied residents the ability to obtain a state certification or license because of a prior or irrelevant criminal record.
At a news conference held at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Susquehanna Township, the governor said applicants can only be denied a license if their conviction is directly related to the practice of the profession or if their criminal conviction poses a substantial risk to the health and safety of their clients or co-workers.
“It’s good for skilled workers. It’s good for their employers. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for all of us,” Wolf said.
Joining him at the news conference was Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and Secretary of the Board of Pardons Brandon Flood.
Boockvar called the law a step forward toward the department’s goal of removing unnecessary or unclear requirements in the state’s licensing standards. She said her department over the next six months will work to develop clear criteria as to what crimes would disqualify a person from obtaining a license with outside businesses and the boards and commissions under the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs. Those boards and commissions serve as the gatekeepers to more than one in every five jobs.
That work, among other details necessary to implement this law, will include a new process for evaluating license applicants and a guide to give individuals a preliminary decision if their conviction is likely to disqualify them for licensure so they don’t waste their time and money on training.
It also allows for restricted licenses for individuals trained at taxpayer expense such as in state prisons to be able to practice a profession under supervision for one to two years even if they otherwise would be denied a license due to their record, Wolf said.
Flood said this law should help to reduce the state Department of Corrections’ recidivism rates that currently show 60% of those who leave a state prison return within two and a half years.
“If the goal is to reduce recidivism, we shouldn’t be as a government, shouldn’t be putting roadblocks and obstacles in the way of folks particularly when it comes to licensing,” said Flood, a corrections success story himself who received a state pardon for his own drug and gun convictions in 2019.
To those who are skeptical about giving people second chances, he said, “there isn’t a free lunch here.... This is for folks who have done the work, obtained the credentials and schooling necessary in order to competently secure licensing and certification. These are folks who made mistakes, done what they needed to do and are asking for a hand up, not a hand out.”
Previously, the best option that ex-offenders had to overcome disqualification from licensing would be to go through the rigorous and time-consuming pardon process to clear their record, he said.
“Not everyone needs their record clear, just some folks need an opportunity,” he said.
Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin County, who is the bill’s sponsor, said, “As our economy reopens it is paramount we extend the recovery to all Pennsylvanians – including those turning their lives around upon release from the criminal justice system.”
This bill signing comes a day after the second anniversary of Wolf signing the landmark Clean Slate law that allows ex-offenders to petition the courts for their records to be sealed if they meet certain conditions. The governor took part in a bipartisan observance of the anniversary celebrating that law’s impact that has now automatically sealed nearly 35 million cases involving low-level offenses, opening up second chances including jobs and housing for countless Pennsylvanians with records.
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