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Criminal Convictions and Occupational Licensure Reform

| September 27, 2017

Occupational licensure reform is getting a good hard look by the Wisconsin Legislature. Like many states, Wisconsin has seen a significant jump in the number of professions that require registration and certification from the state government. In the last twenty years, there has been a 44% increase in the number of professions requiring state licenses. To determine if the regulation of so many jobs is necessary, the Legislature is considering legislation that would create a council to review existing and proposed new professional licenses. The proposed reviews would examine the need for a license and if the requirements are necessary to protect the public—or simply protectionism.

The reviews should also include an examination of the rationale of restrictions on licenses because of criminal convictions. With the proliferation of occupational licenses, restrictions based on convictions have evolved to a seemingly nonsense piece of patchwork. Some licenses can be denied because of a felony conviction, some because of a misdemeanor, some simply by being charged with a crime, and some have limits on how recent the conviction can be.

To understand the absurdity, consider this example. A misdemeanor conviction would mean a statutory bar to obtaining a landscape architecture license and would require a six-year waiting period before obtaining a teacher’s license, but would have no effect on getting a law enforcement officer license.

However, a comprehensive review needs to answer some questions. Does the current restriction protect the public? Is the restriction narrow enough to get at the heart of the concern over a person with a conviction working with a state license? Is the restriction unduly harsh in relation to other license restrictions? Is there, and should there be, a path to rehabilitation for a person convicted of a crime to seek licensure in the future?

Access to professional licenses is key to economic opportunity. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows licensing and credentials results in higher income and lower unemployment. Good paying jobs with the hope for upward economic mobility helps reduce the risk of reoffending. Should the review process become law, the factor of creating barriers to jobs because of a criminal conviction needs examination.

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THOMAS LYONS entered the legal field after receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Marquette University. Working in offices in Kewaunee and Sheboygan Counties, Tom’s practice focused primarily on criminal defense, juvenile, and mental health law. Switching to the world of policy, Tom started as a legislative aide to a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, followed by a State Senator, and for a brief time Governor Scott Walker before joining Right on Crime on 2017.

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