Unfortunately, in many places across the country a criminal record, even if the crime happened long ago or was minor in nature, can be an impediment to employment.
However, dozens of new job opportunities could open up for people with criminal records if a new legislative proposal in Georgia is successful. The Georgia Justice Project is targeting the occupational licensing process that prospective employees must go through to work in a wide range of fields. The aim is to create a more standardized licensing process and remove barriers for people with criminal records.
According to Doug Ammar, the executive director of the Georgia Justice Project, a criminal record should not always prevent someone from being qualified to perform a job. The planned legislation aims to ensure this claim is the reality for individuals looking to positively impact their communities after a conviction.
State Sen. Brian Strickland and Democratic State Rep. Patty Bentley have led a task force that hashed out the details of the planned bill. The goal is to help people who have made mistakes remain productive members of society. Specifically, the legislation will create clear occupational licensing guidelines regarding the severity and time frame of the offense and whether it impacts a person’s ability to work in a particular industry.
The legislation is also seeking to expand the adoption of a pre-clearance process that is already used by some professional boards. This process allows someone to determine ahead of time if they are eligible for a license, avoiding the waste of time and resources if they find out later on that they are not eligible.
This bill is being undertaken with the understanding that appropriate guardrails do need to be in place. Obviously, it may not be appropriate for certain individuals to work as your doctor just months after a severe violent conviction.
However, the legislation simply wants to ensure that the licensing process is fair and that barriers are not created that keep people from being productive members of society when past convictions have nothing to do with the field they’re working in.
A number of other states, including Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee, have already passed laws supporting fair chance licensing, which reforms laws that impose unnecessary obstacles in fast-growing careers such as healthcare, education, and transportation. The Center for American Progress says that removing barriers to employment for workers with records is needed more than ever as leaders at all levels of government work to address the nation’s legacy of racial injustice and persistent racial inequality.
The steps Georgia is taking must be applauded. States should continue to pursue similar legislative reforms and continue to investigate how regulatory structures, like occupational licensing, can harm ex-offenders.