2023 Bills

SB 36: Dismantling Occupational Licensing Barriers for Ex-Offenders

This bill passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously. Review our tracker for more information.

Libertas Institute supports this bill

Staff review of this legislation finds that it aligns with our principles and should therefore be passed into law.

Most of us are familiar with the traditional punishments we levy upon criminals: imprisonment, fines, and community service. However, what often goes unnoticed are the less apparent punishments that follow. Ex-offenders sometimes struggle to find jobs as a result of their criminal record, potentially banishing them to a life of unemployment or one of limited social mobility.

With hundreds of occupations requiring licensure and an estimated one in four Utahns having some sort of criminal record, occupational licensing can actually prevent a vast number of Utahns from working many jobs. These licensing obstacles are part of the reason why 46 percent of Utah’s inmates return to prison within three years. With limited economic opportunities, ex-offenders may be forced into circumstances where criminal activity seems like the only option.

One incremental step that Utah can take to make the licensing process more fair for ex-offenders is to join eighteen other states and completely ban the use of vague “good moral character” or “moral turpitude” considerations. Currently, these clauses unnecessarily give licensing boards broad leeway to deny people, mainly those with any sort of criminal record, from obtaining professional licenses.

This is problematic as many ex-offenders may find themselves denied licenses for occupations that, on the surface, minimally relate to the crimes they committed in the past. 

Fortunately, Utah has already made good progress in this area, recognizing the benefits of making it easier for ex-offenders to find employment. Reforms in 2019 and 2020 repealed the use of moral character requirements by the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL). 

Nonetheless, there is still much to improve on this front. In Utah, ex-offenders may be denied licensure if “crimes of moral turpitude,” a term that is not well defined, were committed. Furthermore, licenses issued by some departments, such as those that concern the financial or private security sectors as well as landscape architecture, are not yet covered under reforms repealing “good moral character” and “moral turpitude” clauses in their assessment of license applications. 

Senate Bill 36, sponsored by Senator Curtis Bramble, expands upon previous efforts to rid the state of these subjective and often punishing clauses. Specifically, this bill cleans up and removes lingering language about “good moral character” or “moral turpitude.” Occupations that will see changes related to that language if this legislation passes include funeral service professionals, landscape architects, security personnel, and deception detection examiners.

This legislation should be supported. It would make Utah better by reducing the recidivism rate, increasing economic opportunity for ex-offenders, strengthening the labor market, and fostering a society that is more forgiving and willing to help those who may have made unfortunate mistakes in the past.