Which of the last two presidents vowed to give ex-offenders a second chance in a State of the Union Address? You could hardly be blamed for guessing President Barack Obama, but the answer is President Trump. The quote made headlines due to its peculiarity coming from the “law and order” candidate, but it revealed that even hardliners like Trump are considering better ways to reintegrate former prisoners into society.
In Kansas, both Democratic and Republican members of the legislature have acknowledged a substantial obstacle to offender reentry: the ability to get a job. Senate Bill 421 is a bipartisan measure that aims to reduce the burdensome regulations ex-offenders face from occupational licensing boards.
Roughly one-third of American adults have a criminal record, which implies that more than 700,000 Kansas residents have some conviction. Unfortunately, occupational licensing boards across the country can make it next to impossible to legally work if you have a record. This might be less of an issue if licensed jobs were rare, but roughly one-third of all workers now require a government-granted license.
Nationally, roughly 30,000 licensing restrictions fall on those with criminal records, and thousands of these restrictions come in the form of blanket bans or include vague “moral turpitude” provisions that give boards immense latitude to deny ex-offenders licenses. SB 421 ensures boards cannot use any unrelated conviction as the sole basis for licensure denial. It may make sense to prevent a person with a recent drug conviction from working as a pharmacist, but they should probably be allowed to work as a barber. Inexplicably, the Kansas Board of Barbering can deny licenses to applicants with any misdemeanor drug conviction.
The bill also prevents boards from denying licenses for non-sexual, nonviolent crimes…