State Lawmakers and Advocates Announce Bills to Reduce Barriers to Economic Opportunity for Formerly Incarcerated Californians

Legislation will prohibit State departments from denying professional licenses to Californians with non-violent offenses

PHOTO: Garo Manjikian | SouthPasadenan.com

SACRAMENTO–A coalition of state legislators and advocates today announced a package of criminal justice reform legislation affecting employment opportunities for Californians with prior convictions. The proposals by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-San Bernardino), Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), and Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) will prohibit the majority of State agencies that provide professional licenses from using arrest or conviction records as the sole basis to deny professional licenses to Californians with non-violent offenses.

“If the State of California is truly committed to rehabilitation, then we need to walk the walk,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “It is unacceptable for us to provide job-specific training while people are incarcerated and then put up nonsensical roadblocks to becoming employed in those very same professions upon re-entry.”

Assembly Bills 2138, 2293, and 3039 would affect the nearly 8 million Californians with non-violent arrest or conviction records and help reduce the barriers they face in receiving a professional license, which is required for 30 percent of jobs in the State of California.

Reports have indicated that qualified individuals are being denied occupational licenses on the basis of a prior convictions or arrests. Those arrests or convictions are often old, unrelated to the job, or have been dismissed. Even individuals who receive job-specific training while incarcerated are then barred from those professions upon re-entry because they are denied a professional license.

California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation, in part because of the inability of many ex-offenders to secure gainful employment after incarceration. This new effort will allow Californians with non-violent arrest or conviction records to begin meaningful careers and will help the State reduce recidivism.

AB 2138, authored by Assemblymembers Chiu and Low, will prohibit the Department of Consumer Affairs from denying or revoking licenses under its issuing authority unless the conviction is directly related to the functions of the profession the applicant wishes to pursue. The bill will also require license issuing boards to collect and publish demographic data regarding licenses that the board denies. AB 2138 will not affect licenses issued under the Bureau of Cannabis Control, which falls under the Department of Consumer Affairs but is a new bureau and has far more complicated licensing regulations.

“When nonviolent offenders cannot find work, recidivism remains high, making our communities less safe,” said Assemblymember Low. “This bill will ensure consumer protection while also providing a more fair and consistent process for applicants seeking licensure in the state.”

Assemblymember Holden has authored AB 3039, which will enact similar provisions for all licenses issued by the Department of Social Services (DSS), to ensure all Californians are able to access employment in community care facilities. These reforms will decrease DSS’s workload and applicants to support themselves and their families more quickly. This bill will apply to all licenses issued under DSS with the exception of licenses related to foster care.

“Why should people be continuously oppressed after rehabilitation in a society where our communities are over policed and convicted?” said Assemblymember Chris Holden (AD 41). “AB 3039 seeks to give those who may have had a criminal history a chance at a new life. This bill package will provide relief and respect to marginalized communities and support them when our system neglected them.”

AB 2293 by Assemblymember Reyes will similarly affect licenses as in the previous two bills but will apply to EMS licenses issued by the Emergency Medical Services Authority.

“If a person is good enough to risk their life fighting fires for the state of California as an inmate, and as long as they meet the standards of the program and maintain good behavior, their previous actions should not prevent them from having a job utilizing the skill set they have learned,” said Assemblymember Reyes.

This effort comes after a statewide “ban the box” bill, AB 1008, was signed into law last year to ensure that prospective job-seekers are not prematurely disqualified from jobs in the private sector based on the applicant’s criminal history.

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, East Bay Community Law Center, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Root & Rebound are co-sponsoring AB 2138, AB 229, and AB 3039. The measures will be heard in their respective initial policy committees tomorrow.

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