News Story

Bills Reduce Work Restrictions, Give Those With Criminal Records Another Chance

Michigan House licensing bills supported by bipartisan legislators and groups across the political spectrum

Michigan would take a step toward removing obstacles to people earning a living in many heavily regulated occupations under recently introduced legislation in the state House. That’s the view of a diverse coalition of business, free-market, conservative and liberal groups that is backing the bipartisan package of bills now pending before the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

Under House bills 6110 to 6113, licensing boards or agencies could no longer arbitrarily declare that a past criminal conviction excludes a candidate from certain licenses under a “good moral character” requirement. A person could still be denied a license if past criminal activity was directly related to the occupation in question, but the onus to demonstrate this would shift more to the state. And House Bill 6114 would require the state to review licenses currently on the books and propose a rollback of those not focused on public health and safety.

The criminal background bills are supported by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan League for Public Policy, ACLU of Michigan and Safe & Just Michigan, among others. Chamber of Commerce official Wendy Block said the measure would reduce worker shortages while still giving employers the ability to screen employees.

“The Chamber supports this legislation because it removes a significant barrier to employment for those convicted of crimes but retains other tools employers need to properly screen prospective employees,” Block said in an email. “This legislative package will create better employment pathways for those with criminal records, which could help reduce worker shortages in many industries and help these individuals contribute to their communities and Michigan’s economy.”

Peter Ruark, senior policy analyst with the Michigan League for Public Policy, said finding stable work and economic security is one of the biggest challenges facing individuals who return to society after being incarcerated.

“Many are eager to learn new skills and attain an occupational license, but find they are prohibited from doing so even though their record does not indicate a safety risk. We support the bipartisan legislation that eliminates blanket licensing restrictions against returning citizens and gives them a second chance to work, succeed and thrive,” Ruark said in an email.

The licensing review bill is supported by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, ACLU, Mackinac Center, West Michigan Policy Forum, Americans for Prosperity and the Michigan Freedom Fund. House Bill 6114 would establish a state commission to review current and proposed occupational licensure mandates and assess whether they are the least restrictive way to protect the health and safety of consumers. If a regulation doesn’t meet this standard, the commission would recommend less restrictive alternatives. For example, if the state attempted to license cooks in restaurants, the review commission might suggest health inspections instead of mandated education courses.

Bill sponsor Rep. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, believes that occupational licensure is one of the greatest barriers faced by people trying to enter the workforce.

“Governments at all levels have been creating these barriers and thereby holding back our economy and creating a true harm to citizens who want to work, with little or no observable benefit in terms of safety,” Theis said in an email. “We need to remove barriers that have no purpose so our citizens can flourish.”

Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, co-sponsored both proposals, and is also the minority vice chair of the Regulatory Reform Committee, said he believes in second chances.

“With some exceptions, I don’t think the state should put up extra hurdles to those seeking employment when their past indiscretions have been adjudicated and their time has been served,” Moss said in an emailed statement.

The Michigan House has already advanced one important licensure reform proposal. House Bills 5955 to 5965 would preempt local governments from imposing any new occupational licensure restrictions that duplicate or exceed those enforced by the state.