Syrita Bowen News, Pennsylvania, Press

Historic Second Chance Bill Introduced by Bipartisan Lawmakers; Emphasis is on Expanding Employment Opportunities

Senate Bill 637 and House Bill 1477 Reform Occupational Licensing Laws to Get Pennsylvanians With Criminal Records Back to Work

(Harrisburg, PA) – Today at a joint press conference, a group of bipartisan lawmakers announced the introduction of occupational licensing reform legislation aimed at reducing recidivism and breaking down barriers to employment for Pennsylvanians with criminal records. Senators John DiSanto (R-15) and Judy Schwank (D-11) introduced Senate Bill 637, and Representatives Sheryl Delozier (R-88) and Jordan Harris (D-186) introduced House Bill 1477.

Both bills contain the following reforms:

  • Prohibit state boards, commissions, or departments from denying or revoking an occupational license solely based on a criminal conviction unless the offense is directly related to the occupation, thus opening doors to employment for thousands of Pennsylvanians;
  • Ensure licensure boards apply a fair and consistent approach when considering to deny, suspend, or revoke a job license on the basis of a criminal conviction;
  • Provide individuals with a preliminary ruling from licensure boards to determine whether their criminal history poses a barrier to licensure – before they pursue a costly training program. 

“For far too long, Pennsylvania’s occupational licensing laws have made it difficult for individuals to gain licenses they need for certain professions simply because they’ve made mistakes in their past,” said Lauren Krisai, Senior Policy Analyst for the Justice Action Network. “This legislation provides a pathway to employment for those who have earned a second chance, which will make Pennsylvania communities safer and its economy stronger. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners on both sides of the aisle, and applaud Senators DiSanto, Schwank, and Baker, as well as Representatives Harris and Delozier for filing this important legislation aimed at making Pennsylvania a freer, safer, and more prosperous state.”

“More than 1 in 5 jobs require a government license and too often, qualified applicants are denied the right to work because of an old or irrelevant criminal record,” said Senator John DiSanto, prime co-sponsor of Senate Bill 637. “By providing pathways to work we reduce recidivism and promote economic opportunity at a time our commonwealth is in need of a skilled workforce.”

“Hurting someone’s efforts to become a responsible and successful member of the community after they have paid for their crime is never part of a court’s sentence. It benefits no one, and hurts the community along with the individual,” said Senator Judy Schwank, prime co-sponsor of Senate Bill 637. “We want to add balance and predictability to the occupational license process, and enable returning offenders to actually plan and work toward worthwhile goals when they come back to our communities.”

“We need consistency in how these boards are evaluating criminal records when issuing occupational licenses,” added Representative Sheryl Delozier, prime co-sponsor of House Bill 1477. “People should not be denied opportunities to re-enter the workforce unless their conviction is directly related to the profession.”

“We simply can’t continue to judge people by their worst day and hold them back from enriching their lives and the lives of others due to mistakes made in the past that have no impact on someone’s ability to do a job,” said Representative Jordan Harris, prime co-sponsor of House Bill 1477. “This is another step forward in helping those with criminal records re-enter the work force and strengthen our economy and I’m incredibly appreciative to have this discussion today with bipartisan support from my colleagues.”

The introduction of these bills was announced at a press conference near the Capitol that featured supportive remarks from the Justice Action Network and a bipartisan coalition of organizations from across Pennsylvania, including the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Harrisburg NAACP, the Commonwealth Foundation, Community Legal Services Philadelphia, and Americans for Prosperity.

These occupational licensing reform bills follow the landmark “Clean Slate” legislation that was enacted last year, which made Pennsylvania the first state in the country to provide automatic record sealing for individuals with low-level criminal records.