Metts, Slater joined by advocates calling for licensing reform
Bill aimed at opening career paths for those released from prison
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Harold M. Metts and Rep. Scott A. Slater have filed legislation to prevent Rhode Islanders from being denied an occupational license based solely or partially on a non-related criminal conviction.
The “Fair Chance Licensing” act (2019-S 0610, 2019-H 5863) develops a standardized process by which only convictions directly related to the duties of the licensed occupation can be considered in the application for a professional license; to provide guidance on how those records should be considered when an application is being reviewed; and to create a more transparent decision-making and notification process.
The sponsors were joined by advocates from a coalition of more than 30 community groups, including Direct Action for Rights & Equality (DARE), today at a State House event to call attention to the need for the legislation.
“If the purpose of prison system is really supposed to be rehabilitation, someone who’s been there shouldn’t face a lifetime of discrimination in their efforts to find meaningful employment and become a contributing member of our society. Once they’ve served their time and been released, they shouldn’t be denied a license to work in a field that has nothing to do with their previous offense. There needs to be a more-nuanced, less-punitive approach to licensing,” said Senator Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence), a deacon in the Congdon Street Baptist Church who regularly provides ministry in prison. “Most people who go to prison are already facing numerous challenges like systemic poverty, housing insecurity, mental health issues and a lack of educational opportunities. The licensing system shouldn’t be another. If they are otherwise qualified, the licensing board should have more discretion and shouldn’t automatically deny them.”
Said Representative Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence),“This is common-sense reform of a system that isn’t serving the public the way it should. It’s not protecting anyone to deny someone a license to work in a job because of a criminal record for an offense that has no bearing on that job. This is a system that helps perpetuate poverty in the community, making it so that once a person messes up, they face roadblocks that keep them down for the rest of their lives. People who have turned their lives around and want to work and support themselves and their families should have every available opportunity to do that, without senseless barriers.”
For Rhode Islanders who have been involved in the criminal justice system, occupational licensing restrictions pose a serious barrier to meaningful employment. Many of the entry-level jobs in some of the state’s fastest growing sectors require occupational licenses. Over 70 percent of the occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as “lower-income” require a license. Even some professions for which Rhode Islanders can receive training and certification while incarcerated are closed to people returning home because of how licensing agencies explicitly use criminal records to exclude otherwise qualified candidates.
“Passage of this bill is a matter of fairness and equity. People who have been involved in the criminal justice system face a vast array of obstacles in re-entering society,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. “The state should not be adding to them through the use of unnecessarily stringent occupational licensing requirements, which are all too prevalent. The ACLU applauds the sponsors of the legislation for seeking to reduce this discrimination by giving every person a fair chance in the occupational licensing process.”
“Discrimination in occupational licensing deprives us of so many employment opportunities that we are equally fit to do, and deprives us of a better life, and breaking the cycle of incarceration” said Sara Reyes, a member of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE).
In expanding opportunity for meaningful employment for those who have been involved in the criminal justice system, occupational licensing reform represents an important step in efforts to build stable and safe communities for all Rhode Islanders. Besides DARE and the RI ALCU, the legislation is supported by 30 additional community-based organizations, including the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, the Economic Progress Institute and Amos House.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903