Bipartisan effort to reform Pa. professional licensing laws

Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg.
Photo credit Bodhichita/Getty Images
By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania joined forces Wednesday to announce a piece of clean slate legislation designed to reform the Commonwealth's state licensure laws. The effort could impact licenses that govern one in five jobs across the state.

Pennsylvania has 29 boards that govern the licensing of more than 255 occupations, and 13 of the boards have an automatic 10 year ban on licensing if the applicant is convicted of a felony.

According to a recent study, 60 percent of parolees re-enter the penal system within three years of release, costing the Commonwealth about $1.2 billion.

HB 1477 is co-sponsored by State Rep. Jordan Harris, a Democrat representing parts of Philadelphia. He says the rules block thousands of ex-offenders from jobs that have nothing to do with their criminal past, even if they learned the trade in prison.

"Whether its for barbering, cosmetology, or whether it's for nursing, our law still prohibits them from licenses in a field that our academicians said they are competent to do," Harris said.

The companion bills in both chambers of the legislature would eliminate overbroad "good character clauses." 

"Instead, our state licenses boards will be required to take into account an individualized assessment into every applicant," Harris said.

State Sen. John DeSantis, a Republican, is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 637, which will force boards to consider an applicant's efforts at rehabilitation and give a pre-ruling as to whether licensing is possible.

"Before investing time and money into a training program," DeSantis said. 

According to the Board of Pardons, the top reason ex-offenders apply for clemency is access to employment.

A bipartisan group of advocacy groups also joined in the push to pass the new clean slate legislation, including Justice Action Network, Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Harrisburg NAACP, Commonwealth Foundation, Community Legal Services Philadelphia, and Americans for Prosperity.