News Story

Licensure Reform A Lame Duck Launch Failure?

This one has bipartisan support, so failing to fly in 2018 not necessarily the end

More than a dozen House-passed bills aimed at reforming Michigan’s occupational licensure requirements are waiting for a state Senate vote in the post-election “lame duck” legislative session underway in Lansing.

Occupational licensure reform is generally a bipartisan issue, with lawmakers of both parties having spoken in favor of removing employment obstacles for individuals otherwise qualified to perform a trade.

It is an issue that affects more than 20 percent of the state’s workforce, according to survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Brookings Institution.

Jarrett Skorup is an analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who authored a study on the issue. He points out that among other reasons, reforms to occupational licensure help individuals with a criminal conviction reintegrate into society.

“Many of these (license mandates) automatically prevent a person with a criminal background from working while others place unnecessary restrictions. This includes for careers like hairdressers, makeup artists, massage therapists, landscape architects, painters, barbers, roofers and more,” Skorup said in an emailed statement. “Generally speaking, this bill package changes that by allowing people to get a license to work provided their criminal offense is not directly related to the job they want to hold. The most important step towards returning citizens rehabilitating themselves is holding a job – any job – and these bills help provide easier access to work.”

Two bill packages being considered by the Senate are House bills 5955 - 5965 and House bills 6110 - 6113.

House bills 5955 - 5965 would largely preempt local governments from imposing new licensing requirements that are more far-reaching than the state’s.

House bills 6110 - 6113 would prohibit state licensing boards from using a past criminal conviction in and of itself as evidence that a license applicant lacks “good moral character,” unless it was for a felony directly related to the field the individual is looking enter.

Supporters believe this reform is important because it builds on a September executive directive from Gov. Rick Snyder, which prohibits state departments from including a check box on initial job applications that asks applicants if they have ever been convicted of a felony.

Gary Wozniak, president and Chief Executive Officer of RecoveryPark, a nonprofit that hires individuals who have a previous criminal conviction, said he believes legislation such as House bills 6110 - 6113 is a win for the state.

“A permanent paycheck in as short a period as possible after release is a key driver to reducing recidivism,” he said in an emailed statement, referring to how quickly a former prisoner can begin earning an independent living after release. “Licensing rules that bar career paths, particularly those not related to past criminal activity, should be removed, with consideration given for attainment of educational advance while incarcerated and genuine changes in character.”

Representatives of some licensed professions, including real estate brokers and certified public accountants, are opposing the bills unless their professions are exempted.

Brad Ward, vice president of public policy and legal affairs at Michigan Association of Realtors, testified against House Bill 6110 during a Dec. 5 committee meeting of the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee. Ward safety reasons.

“We have a fairly unique license and by virtue of that license and our profession, we can enter into someone’s homes unaccompanied,” Ward said. “The way the language is currently drafted in the bill, we think it takes away the board’s ability to consider those things [such as previous theft and criminal sexual assault charges].”