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Reducing Barriers to Occupational Licensing

Evidence suggests maintaining a job reduces the chance of recidivism. It is difficult to pinpoint why employment is a contributing factor to successful reentry. Though a job is clearly valuable in providing for self and family, the value in working exceeds physical needs. It is gratifying to earn something, and meaningful employment can instill a sense of purpose in a person. Moreover, idle hands are known to lead to trouble.

Rep. Leach and Rep. Allen’s HB 1342 is designed to facilitate employment for persons with a criminal record, but by no means is it a government handout. Instead, the bill seeks to reduce government barriers to occupational licensing so that individuals pursuing a livelihood are not unduly burdened. Currently, licensing authorities may disqualify a candidate if his or her criminal record “directly relates” to the occupation. While a seemingly reasonable policy on its surface, Texas law grants considerable leeway to licensing authorities to make this determination. The broad discretion currently on the books can perpetuate needless hurdles to licensure for Texans with a criminal record. Moreover, under current law, any offense within the last five years—even if unrelated to the occupation—may be grounds for disqualification.

Among other reforms, HB 1342 provides further guidance to licensing authorities in determining whether an offense directly relates to an occupation, effectively reeling in broad discretion by refining factors. HB 1342 also removes the five-year time horizon for unrelated criminal history. Notably, though, HB 1342 would still allow licensing authorities to consider a violent crime or an offense sexual in nature, regardless of whether it directly relates. In other words, a candidate may still be disqualified even if a violent criminal history does not directly relate to the occupation’s duties or responsibilities.

Some ex-offenders may be ready and willing to work but their criminal history gives minor pause. HB 1342 grants Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) the authority to issue a “restricted license” for select occupations. This is an innovative approach to getting more people in the workforce. A restricted license may carry additional conditions, such as special supervision or increased reporting requirements. Restricted licenses are a smart response to situations in which an applicant is otherwise likely to be denied a license. Importantly, HB 1342 builds in a rebuttable presumption that, once the initial term of the restricted license has expired, the applicant is eligible for a standard license. The rebuttable presumption is a key piece because it combats concerns that the advent of restricted licenses will lead to a long-term reduction in standard licenses. Texas lawmakers should grant TDLR the authority to utilize this prudent alternative for certain occupations so that fewer people are outright denied due to their criminal history.

Texas wants to keep communities safe and watch its citizens prosper. This is why lawmakers have supported HB 1342 this session. HB 1342 passed the House 146-0 and was voted out favorably by the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce with no opposition. As of this writing, it is up to the Senate to send this bill to the Governor’s desk. Having been crafted by stakeholders from different corners, HB 1342 bridges the gap between ideals and practice. Now it is time for the Texas Legislature to act.

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