News Story

Governor’s Licensure Directive Gives Ex-Offenders Another Chance

Removes potential barrier to 200 professions that now require a license

Gov. Rick Snyder has announced actions to remove an obstacle that reportedly has prevented many people with criminal backgrounds from entering trades that require a state license. Experts and lawmakers praised the move, but they also said a legislative fix is needed to make the reform permanent.

The state licensing bureau will remove a box on occupational licensure applications that asks if the applicant was convicted of a felony. Also, prison training programs will have to determine whether a potential trainee could be denied a license because of a criminal history, and inform that person before he or she begins the program.

In addition, the governor issued an executive directive ordering state agencies to remove the felony question from initial state employment applications.

While the directive means the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs won’t initially consider criminal history, applicants who are former offenders will be required to attest that they can serve the public and have been rehabilitated. For state job applications, criminal history can be taken into account later in the application process.

Approximately 50,000 people are convicted of felonies in Michigan each year, and a felony conviction can bar a person from earning a living in many of the 200 occupations that are subject to licensure mandates. This can happen even if the past offense is unrelated to the occupation. The governor’s office said he is encouraging private sector employers to follow the state’s example.

Several bills proposed in the Legislature would similarly reform occupational licensing laws. Without legislation, Snyder’s directive could be overturned or weakened by a future gubernatorial administration.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, in August introduced House Bill 6280, which would bar licensing boards from using a criminal conviction as proof of an individual’s lack of “good moral character,” a term currently used in licensing requirements.

Lucido said that licenses are often denied without any explanation and that his bill would require licensing agencies “put in writing why they’re denying it [a license]” and define “good moral character.”

“Tell us why this person doesn’t deserve a second chance,” he said. “When does the punishment end after somebody has paid their debt to society?”

Michigan Capitol Confidential reported in June on a bipartisan bill package with provisions similar to Lucido’s bill and Snyder’s executive directive. The bills, introduced in May, would require agencies to establish a screening process by which potential license applicants could determine in advance if past offenses prohibit them from getting a license.

Earlier this year, Michigan Capitol Confidential reported that the state had denied a nursing license to a man who moved here from New York and was found by a judge to have been rehabilitated after a low-level conviction for stealing more than a decade ago.

House bills 6110 to 6113 would bar licensing agencies from using past criminal convictions to exclude individuals from obtaining certain licenses. House Bill 6114 would call on a commission to review old licensing requirements and roll back those that have nothing to do with public health and safety.

Those earlier bills and Lucido’s bill were all referred to the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

Jonathan Haggerty, a criminal justice policy manager at the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C., said Snyder’s directive is “a substantial step” towards reform, but a legislative fix is needed.

“These changes get a lot right and have the potential to put a dent in the massive problem of recidivism afflicting states across the country, thereby improving public safety and saving taxpayer dollars,” Haggerty said. “As promising as this is, though, there's only so much the executive can do. The incredible burdens ex-offenders face in finding work will require a legislative fix.”

Haggerty also suggested the “good moral character” requirement be removed altogether because it’s “a sloppy way of increasing public safety.”