Wolf signs bill to reform work permit conditions for rehabilitated criminals

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Skilled workers with a criminal record in the Commonwealth will now have a second chance to move forward in their lives thanks to a bipartisan bill recently approved by the Senate and signed by Governor Tom Wolf on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 637 removes what the Wolf administration calls “obsolete licensing barriers” that have been shown to prevent skilled workers with criminal records from obtaining necessary professional licenses.

According to the governor’s administration, one in five Pennsylvanians – over a million workers – needs a professional license issued by a council or commission to do their job.

Various professions including those in cosmetology, hairdressing, landscape architecture, social work and manufacturing, vehicle trading and sales, etc. all require professional licenses.

“Pennsylvania needs to be a place where hard-working people can put their skills to use,” Wolf said. “Arbitrarily denying someone a work permit because of outdated criminal records rules is a mistake. This new bipartisan law is a common sense way for people to pursue the American dream and build better lives in Pennsylvania. It’s good for skilled workers, their employers and the economy for all of us.

The bill lists a number of changes for the 29 state professional licensing boards.

Boards and commissions will no longer be able to use a person’s criminal history to deny them a permit, as long as their criminal history is not directly related to the job for which they are seeking a permit.

Boards will also be responsible for individually reviewing applications based on offense, time since conviction, applicant’s personal progress and training, and other factors before denying a permit.

These councils will be required to create a public list of criminal offenses that may prevent authorization to practice. In addition, individuals will be allowed to obtain a preliminary ruling if their conviction is likely to prevent them from obtaining a permit, saving them time and money. However, individuals are still encouraged to apply and provide evidence to support their license application.

Temporary barber and cosmetology permits will also be made available to those trained in a penal institution, allowing them to work once reintegrated into society. Applications for such outside licenses are often denied for reformed criminals, but temporary licenses can work for one to two years.

Pardons Secretary Brandon J. Flood, an advocate for judicial reform, applauded the passage of the new law, which he said will help those who have been rehabilitated reintegrate into society. Flood is particularly familiar with the challenges of re-entering the world after incarceration, having spent nearly a decade in prison on drug and gun charges. While serving a sentence in Chester County, Flood enrolled in college courses and upon his release eventually got a job in the state legislature which led him to his current post , which he held last year.

“Today’s signing of this legislation serves as a helping hand and not a gift to many Pennsylvanians involved in justice who have made mistakes, learned from them and are actively seeking to improve their lives,” said Flood. “I would like to thank the Governor, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and Senators DiSanto and Schwank for their leadership on this critically important issue.”

Although the Senate bill encourages reformed criminals to return to society, certain cases are excluded. Councils cannot license a person convicted of a sex offense to practice health care.

As it stands, councils cannot take juvenile convictions or clean slate convictions struck out when determining license eligibility.

The State Department and Pennsylvania Department of Licensing Commissions will develop a guide to help criminally convicted persons apply for a license.

“The Pennsylvania State Department has been a strong supporter of professional licensing standards that protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians and are free from unnecessary or unclear requirements,” said Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar. “We believe this new law is a step forward towards this goal. We applaud the Legislature and Governor Wolf for making this much needed reform in Commonwealth licensing laws. “

Wolf’s office has advocated for changes to the licensing process for years. In 2017, an executive order signed by the governor called for a review of employment licenses with a comparison with other states. In 2018, a task force appointed by Wolf released a report proposing proposals “to cut red tape and modernize employment licensing,” including removing “outdated criminal record restrictions.”

Two years ago, Wolf signed the Clean Slate Act, allowing individuals to ask courts to seal their cases if a person has not been convicted for 10 years for an offense that resulted in a year or more in prison, to provided that this person has paid all financial debts ordered by the court.

In 2017, the Wolf administration “banned the box,” removing criminal history questions from state job applications. The move was intended to give applicants with a criminal background a fair chance to be considered for a position based on their skills and qualifications, without immediately excluding them on the basis of their background. Exceptions were made in cases where a criminal’s background could interfere with his ability to do his job.


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