The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature passed S.B. 637, a bipartisan bill to ease occupational and professional licensing barriers that had previously stood in the way of people with criminal histories from getting work. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is expected to sign the bill.
The Occupational Licensure Reform bill modifies occupational licensing requirements by removing draconian criminal record restrictions for occupations regulated by boards and commissions within the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA). This 2020 bill follows a separate 2018 act that automatically clears the criminal records of most non-violent offenders who have gone 10 years without a new arrest.
As summarized by Penn Live,
The [2020 law] requires the Department of State’s licensing boards and commissions to complete individual reviews of all applicants for licenses to determine if a past criminal conviction is a disqualification for licensure. The licensing entities must consider whether the crime or crimes are directly related to the occupation, weigh rehabilitative factors and whether issuing a license creates a substantial risk to the public.
Applicants would also not be required to disclose past convictions that were expunged under the Clean Slate law, or crimes committed as a juvenile.
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The bill tasks the various state licensing board to publish list of crimes that could trigger further scrutiny in their respective field, and gives prospective applicants the opportunity to seek preliminary decisions on their particular criminal histories before they invest large amounts of time and money in professional training and education.
The list of relevant crimes is supposed to be produced within 180 days of enactment of the law. Most of the other new procedures will take effect six months after enactment, or, in this case, right around the start of the new year.
Some offenses would still be non-starters. For example, a sexual offense would bar someone from work in health care. And the bill also requires a license applicant convicted of a violent crime to show three crime-free years from imposition of sentence or release from prison, whichever is later.
But the state boards and commissions would no longer be permitted to issue blanket denials based on an old convictions that are not directly related to the profession.
The bill has had the support of a broad coalition of stakeholders including the Greater Harrisburg Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, Community Legal Services, Americans for Tax Reform, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Justice Action Network.
The 2018 law, the Clean Slate Law (P.L. 402, No. 56, amending Tit. 18), was estimated by the Wolf Administration to seal 30 million records in the Commonwealth by June 2020. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia estimated that this would be about half of the courts’ entire database, according.