NASHVILLE (March 29, 2018) — Legislation which helps ensure Tennessee’s occupational licensing does not keep offenders who have served their time in jail from obtaining employment and getting a fresh start in life unanimously passed the Senate on final consideration on Wednesday.
The Fresh Start Act, sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), reduces barriers to entering a profession by only allowing a state licensing board to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought, excluding certain felonies.
“Each year, about 5,000 Tennesseans leave our prisons after serving time for crimes that they’ve committed,” said Senator Roberts. “We can either reduce barriers that prevent them from becoming productive taxpaying citizens, or we can leave those barriers up and risk them turning back to a life of crime. This bill would give those who committed a crime unrelated to the profession that they wish to join a fresh start.”
The state requires a license for about 110 different jobs, many of which impact “blue collar” workers. Most of the state’s licensing boards can deny a license to do a job based on a past criminal record, including low level misdemeanor crimes.
The legislation requires that before a licensing board denies a license to an applicant for a past crime, they must consider the nature and the seriousness of the crime, the passage of time since the crime was committed, and the relationship between the crime and the license sought. It also calls for an appeal process for an applicant who is denied a license to ensure their right to earn a living is not unfairly restricted.
“In short, if a person has a series of breaking and entering felonies over the past few years, they can be denied to be a locksmith or an alarm installer. However, if the applicant has a DUI from 10 years ago, he or she can’t be denied a license to be a barber,” Roberts continued.
In addition, the bill allows the license applicant to petition a state licensing board in advance to determine if a past crime would disqualify them. This clarity is important before the applicant spends money and time to meet state requirements to enter or remain in a profession in which they will not be licensed. It also makes clear these rights are not available for individuals who commit certain class felonies in particular professions, in order to protect the public.
“When the prison doors open and it is time for those who served their time to be returned to our communities, one of the most critical factors to keep them from reoffending is an opportunity to make a living,” added Roberts. “This legislation reduces recidivism and gives those men and women who come out of jail and want to turn their life around an opportunity to make a living. I appreciate all the people who worked on this bill from both sides of the aisle and am pleased it received such overwhelming, bi-partisan support in the Senate.”
The bill is pending final action on the House floor, where a vote could come as soon as next week. Upon approval there, it will head to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.