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The conservative approach to criminal justice:
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Wisconsin Conservatives Work for Fair Employment

| February 19, 2018

Wisconsin’s Legislature is fast tracking legislation that reforms how regulatory agencies treat criminal convictions when applying for an occupational licenses.  I wrote previously about the many benefits of a good job.  People who are gainfully employed are less likely to reoffend.  People who hold an occupational license from the state are likely to earn more than those in a profession not licensed by the state.  I also discussed the inconsistencies of current Wisconsin law as to how different crimes are treated differently.

Senate Bill 626 has three main components. First, licensing agencies would be prohibited from denying a license for an arrest record unless the charge is a serious crime involving bodily harm, i.e. murder, rape, and the most violent offenses, or the crime is somehow substantially related to the occupation.  This requirement would force agencies to use common sense when preventing someone from working.  Agencies would have to put the protection of the public first instead of relying on the arbitrary restrictions that currently exist.

Second, agencies are limited to considering only adult criminal convictions and not juvenile charges.  Because restrictions against employment are inconsistent, the wording prevents some applicants because of juvenile delinquencies.  The main philosophy of the juvenile court system is redemption, not punishment.  In order to truly redeem juvenile offenders, there can’t be a lifetime ban from a number of jobs. The main philosophy of the juvenile court system is redemption, not punishment.  In order to truly redeem juvenile offenders, there can’t be a lifetime ban from a number of jobs.

Third, agencies would be required to inform an applicant if their conviction would prevent a license before the applicant starts any requirements needed for a license.  Many licenses have stringent education requirements that can cost thousands.  Fairness dictates before such an undertaking, an applicant should know whether a decades old conviction would render their efforts useless.

More can be done to address the collateral consequences of convictions so that the consequences are narrowly tailored to protect the public instead of punitively and arbitrarily preventing people from working.  And, of course, more can be done to stop economic protectionism in the form of occupational licensing.  However, Senate Bill 626 does knock down barriers to successful reentry and provides hope for a better future for people with criminal convictions.

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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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