Should Licensing Reformers Still Be Talking About African Hair Braiding?

If you’ve studied the issue of occupational licensing reform for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard about African hair braiders. The issue of state government regulating the hair braiding industry is a compelling one. Why would a state subject a hair braider to obtain a full cosmetology license, endure hundreds of hours of unnecessary coursework and pay thousands of dollars before they can legally work? Furthermore, the courses required to obtain the required license do not even directly apply to hair braiding but are more focused on general cosmetology issues like handling chemicals and cutting hair.

Major political figures on both sides of the isle have spoken about this argument including former Vice-President Joe Biden who said, “If you are a hair braider, you braid people’s hair, you have to get a license to do something like 400 hours of training in another state.”

The personal anecdotes are even more compelling. This is a trade extends back thousands of years and has been passed down through generations of family traditions. Why then would a state feel it necessary to interject and force braiders to go back to school and get a license that is not even applicable to their trade?

If you have been to a meeting on occupational licensing reform or researched the topic online for more than a few minutes, you will no doubt have seen African hair braiding brought up as a reason we should overhaul state occupational regulation. Reformers point to the personal anecdotes, and the burdensome licensing requirements for cosmetologists being unjustly applied to braiders.

The only problem is states have, for the most part, already addressed this issue. In 2019 only 7 states still require a full cosmetologists license for African hair braiders. In 2014 that number was 24 states. In the past 5 years, 17 states have either removed the licensing requirement for hair braiders or created a specialty license with significantly reduced amount of training required.

Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Wyoming are the only states that continue to require a full cosmetology license for their African hair braiders. 28 states completely exempt hair braiding from licensure: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. The remaining states have a specialty license for hair braiding with significantly reduced number of training hours required.

Hair braiding is continuously used as an example to convince policymakers that state occupational licensing is a broken system that needs fixing. However, policymakers should also be made aware that the majority of states have fixed the issues regarding barriers into this occupation.

Sensationalists claims are often touted which grab attention but studying the issue will lead you to the conclusion that state government largely did its job. Lawmakers realized that requiring a cosmetology license for hair braiders is not good regulation and did something to fix the issue.  Yet the incessant rhetoric from reform groups will have you believing that every state still punishes hair braiders in this way.

Comparing one occupation to another is never apples to apples. Each industry has unique challenges and responsibilities to the public. Hair braiders and dentists are two entirely different professions. Arguments which lump all of state licensing into one single system run the risk of pushing reform where reform is not needed and would be harmful to public safety. Comparing dramatically different professions misses the larger point about what the aim of licenses is and whom they are designed to protect.

Let’s move past the stories hair braiders who were shut down and fined by the state cosmetology board. States learned from their mistakes and fixed the issue. Let’s have more informed, industry-specific conversations about occupational licensing that don’t paint regulation as a broken system because of a few anecdotes.  

Pennsylvania Joins Arizona in Universal License Recognition

Often a licensed professional wishing to enter into a new state finds difficulty obtaining the license needed to practice their profession. The delay in obtaining their professional license could mean a lack of income, lost employment opportunities or even a decision to not move into the state.

On July 1, 2019, Gov.  Tom Wolf signed HB 1172 which makes Pennsylvania the second state to recognize out-of-state licenses.  The bill mandates boards and commissions in the Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs provide licensure by endorsement for out-of-state applicants if the applicant meets certain criteria.

Pennsylvania has 29 boards and commissions that license 255 occupations. The boards that are subject to this legislation are listed below:




Nursing Home Administrators

Auctioneer Examiners

Occupational Therapy

Barber Examiners


Certified Real Estate  Appraisers

Osteopathic Medicine




Physical Therapy

Crane Operators




Engineers, Land          Surveyors, Geologists

Real Estate Commission

Funeral Directors

Social Workers, Marriage & Family               Therapists, Professional Counselors

Landscape Architects

Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology

Massage Therapy

Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers &                 Salespersons


Veterinary Medicine


“This new law will reduce barriers for new Pennsylvanians to work here and shows this is a land of opportunity,” said Gov. Wolf. “Portability is especially helpful for members of the military and their spouses who frequently move between states in service of the country and often have difficulty quickly getting a license to work in their profession.

The out-of-state applicant must:

  • Hold a licensure from another state with substantial equivalent requirements (determined by the board)
  • Demonstrate competency through experience or continuing education for at least two of the past 5 years
  • Has not committed a crime that would prevent him from being granted a license in Pennsylvania
  • Has not been disciplined by the state in which he was originally licensed
  • Pays Pennsylvania licensing fee

The bill’s “substantially similar” requirement is worth noting. This is a key difference between Pennsylvania and Arizona’s definition of universal recognition. Arizona does not require substantially similar requirements while Pennsylvania does. This still allows for the boards to determine whether or not the out of state applicant has the training, experience, education similar to what applicants in Pennsylvania are required to do. This isn’t an issue in professions where variance among state licensing requirements is negligible. However, this provision still gives the boards discretion to deny an applicant from a state with perceived “lesser” requirements.   

The bill does give the board authority to grant a provisional endorsement license while an applicant completes requirements specific to Pennsylvania. If there is a Pennsylvania specific licensing exam or an additional licensing requirement that is particular to the scope of practice in Pennsylvania, a board may grant a provisional license so the practitioner can get to work while completing that additional requirement.

The bill also clarifies that this provision does not interfere with existing reciprocity agreements or interstate occupational licensing compacts. If you participate in an interstate compact, you are still subject to the universal requirements listed out in the compact.

Prior to HB 1172, many professionals licensed out-of-state had to complete Pennsylvania’s entire licensing process rather than just state specific requirements. The arduous, time-consuming process caused workers moving to Pennsylvania to potentially lose income and career opportunities, and reduced the pool of talented workers for businesses.

“I will continue working with the General Assembly to remove barriers to work for qualified Pennsylvanians and to ensure that we are welcoming to new Pennsylvanians wishing to practice their licensed profession,” said Gov. Wolf.

Understanding Arizona’s Universal Occupational Licensing Recognition Bill

In his 2019 State of the State address, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, former CSG Toll Fellow, urged the Legislature to pass legislation granting universal recognition for occupational licenses, saying “workers don’t lose their skills simply because they move to Arizona.” HB 2569 which was signed into law by Gov. Ducey in April, makes Arizona the first state in the country that allows an individual licensed in another state to receive a comparable license upon moving to Arizona if they meet certain criteria.

What the law does

Arizona’s new universal licensing recognition law makes it easier for people who are already licensed in another state to get licensed at the same level in Arizona. Under the new law, Arizona’s licensing boards will recognize out-of-state occupational licenses for people who have been licensed in their profession for at least one year, are in good standing in all states where they are licensed, pay applicable Arizona fees, and meet all residency, testing, and background check requirements. Applicants interested in receiving their Arizona license under the new law should contact the appropriate Arizona licensing board for an application.

What the law does not do

The new law does not recognize other states’ occupational licenses automatically. For example, workers licensed in other states who move to Arizona still must apply for a license through the appropriate Arizona licensing board before working. However, under the new law, workers will not be required to duplicate training and other requirements that often delay or prevent them from getting to work. In some instances, the applicant may be required to take a state specific Arizona licensing exam if the state board requires it. 

How does this law affect interstate compacts? 

Arizona HB 2569 does not affect the way reciprocity works for states and professions who have enacted interstate compacts. Due to the contractual nature of the agreement, an interstate compact supercedes all existing and new state law that conflicts with it. Arizona has currently enacted 4 of the 5 occupational licensing interstate compacts which means that practitioners in nursing, physical therapy, medicine, and psychology looking to relocate to Arizona will undergo the same process as if they were moving to any other active compact state.  

How does this bill protect public health and safety? 

Arizona’s new universal licensing law ensures protections for public health and safety. In order to qualify for a license under the new law, an applicant must be in standing in all states where they are licensed and not have any past or pending investigations or complaints. Arizona licensing boards will be required to verify that an individual is in good standing in all states where they are licensed. Individuals seeking to work in occupations that require a background check, such as nurses and behavioral health professionals, will still need to complete those background checks. A person may be prevented from receiving a license in Arizona if they have disqualifying criminal background. In addition, professionals receiving licenses under the new law can only become licensed in practice within areas they have been trained and certified to practice in their original state.

HB 2569 is an expansion of an existing reciprocity statute that allows military members and spouses to easily transfer their occupational license or certification into Arizona. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Warren Petersen, points to this measure as proof that licensure reciprocity can work, at least on a small scale. Many states already have license recognition for military spouses, but Arizona is the first state to include all out of state applicants looking to relocate to Arizona.

Gov. Ducey said, “Just because someone moves from Illinois does not mean that they lose their skill when they get to Arizona. Why should someone have to suffer the burden of thousands of dollars, weeks or months of recertification to learn a skill that they already have?” Occupational licesing reform has been a priority during Gov. Ducey’s time in office. During the 2017 legislative session, he signed an Executive Order which required state licensing boards to provide justification for licensing requirements that the Governor’s office deemed excessive. Gov. Ducey also signed the “Right to Earn a Living Act” which restricted state boards from creating any new licenses that can not be justified by health and safety concerns.  

The bill faced some criticism from regulators and concerned practitioners who assert that another state’s licensing standards may not be as stringent as they need to be to ensure health and safety protection. Arizona Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley opposed the bill, saying “We don’t really know what the standards are in other states. Why should we dumb down our standards just to deregulate?” Other legislators are supportive of the concept but worry about the practice. Rep. Amish Shah balks at the use of the term “reciprocity,” seeing HB 2569 as a one-way street into Arizona without compromise from other states.

Professional advocacy groups such as the National Board for Certified Counselors have voiced concerns that granting a license even if the previous state has much lower licensing requirements effectively lowers standards for occupational licensure in Arizona, though most of these groups are generally supportive of increased licensure portability.

Bill sponsor Rep. Warren Peterson said,  “If you hold an occupational license in another state and move to Arizona, we want to get you to work right away. HB 2569 gets government out of the way and lets qualified professionals get right to work.” Petersen views this bill as an opportunity to “get government out of the way and let [workers] get to work.” Petersen told CSG his desire is for “Arizona to be the best place in America to do business, the most welcoming state to people who want to move somewhere…where they are valued for their talent and work ethic and desire to contribute and produce, rather than arbitrary red tape.”

New Ohio Law Targets Occupational Licensing Boards and Aids People with Criminal Records

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed SB 255 on Friday which puts an expiration date of 6 years on all state licensing boards unless they are renewed by the legislature. Prior to a board’s end date, the board must present to standing committees so that lawmakers can evaluate the usefulness, performance, and effectiveness of the board. Each board will have the burden of proof to demonstrate there is a public need for its continued existence. The Legislature will determine whether a board is necessary to protect the health, safety, or welfare of the public and whether its regulations are the least restrictive form that adequately protects the public interest.

This sunset review will also analyze a board’s staff, its budget and its enforcement actions and conclude whether the board has inhibited economic growth, reduced efficiency, or increased the cost of government. One-third of the state’s licensing boards will be reviewed every two years.

Any proposed occupational regulations will have to undergo a similar sunrise review process. The Ohio Legislative Service Commission will analyze the extent to which the requirement for the occupational license stimulates or restricts competition, affects consumer choice, and affects the cost of services.

Boards who present to the legislature to introduce new regulations are expected to provide evidence of present, significant, and substantiated harms to consumers in the state and explain why current laws are insufficient. The goal of the sunrise and sunset reviews in SB 255 are to prohibit new and existing regulations that restrict entrants into the occupation with no clear public protection need identified.

The law also allows an individual who has been convicted of a criminal offense to request a licensing authority to determine whether the individual is disqualified from receiving or holding a license based on conviction. This is particularly impactful for people with criminal convictions who are considering occupations with extensive amount of training or education required. Previously an applicant might go through years of training and spend thousands of dollars only to find out when they apply for a license that their criminal conviction disqualifies them from licensure. Under this new provision, licensing boards must tell a potential application whether or not they have a conviction that would ban them from receiving a licensure which will spare practitioners a significant amount of resources. Licensing boards must also publish all offenses that could disqualify applicants online.

Ohio is following in the footsteps of Nebraska who was the first state to pass legislation mandating this type of sunrise/sunset review process. Nebraska’s LB299 has the same twostep process for review where first, there must be “present, significant, and substantiated harms” that warrant government intervention. Second, if such a problem exists, the legislators must first consider a regulation that is the “least restrictive” and imposes the lowest burdens and costs while still protecting consumers from the harm. A similar bill was also passed last legislative session in Louisiana.

As states continue to think about the way they regulate occupations, more states may follow this sunrise/sunset model as a way to thoughtfully consider if government intervention is needed to protect the health and safety of the public.

Occupational Licensing Consortium Convenes Second National Meeting

On November 28-30, the states a part of the occupational licensing policy learning consortium convened for the second annual meeting in Clearwater, Florida. The state teams had the opportunity to focus on four population groups who are disproportionately affected by licensure—individuals with criminal records, veterans and military spouses, dislocated workers and immigrants with work authorization. License portability, reciprocity, and interstate compacts were also major topics. States had the opportunity to connect with and learn from fellow consortium states, as well as hear from states outside of the consortium that have taken action on occupational licensure including Nebraska and Michigan. 

New funding allowed for four new states to participate in this year’s consortium meeting. Idaho, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Vermont formed state teams made up of legislators, regulatory agencies, and governor’s staff and joined the original 11 states in Clearwater to begin action planning their licensure reform. These states who recently came aboard the project will be part of the consortium going forward.

CSG was also able to expand existing state teams to include more regulatory board members. Licensure reform is a challenging policy area with many competing interests. Bringing together all stakeholders is something CSG wanted to accomplish as a part of this effort. Pursuing licensure reform without input from the licensure boards is not something states have had much success with. In order to engage more regulatory agencies, CSG used additional funding to expand state teams to include these key stakeholders.

The focus on particular reforms from the consortium states as discussed at the meeting ranges widely from sunrise/sunset review, interstate compacts, communications/marketing plans, board consolidation, data collection/standardization, and laws for military families.

One additional point of discussion for the state teams was developing a transition plan for states with outgoing governors and legislators. With state teams being made up heavily of legislators and governor staff, some teams are needing to come up with a plan maintain momentum once these new state leaders take office. The partners at CSG, NCSL, and NGA have committed to developing a transitional memo that states can request which will explain the project and ask for support from the newly elected official.  

The consortium will formally meet one more time in the summer of 2019, but the project partners hope this is just the beginning of state occupational licensing reform.

Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters said, “This was the best conference I’ve ever been a part of. I was so glad to be able to contribute, and was also really proud of my Vermont team and their focus. This conference has energized them.”

Each consortium state has accomplished things throughout this project, but the latest consortium meeting in Clearwater was a great time for states to reset focus, refine vision, and energize to pursue common sense licensure reform.

More States Take a Hard Look at Licensing Practices

States continue to take significant actions in attempts to lessen barriers to workforce entry caused by occupational licensing. CSG currently facilitates a consortium of 11 states looking at occupational licensing reform as a part of the Occupational Licensing Assessing State Policy and Practice project in partnership with NCSL and NGA, funded by the US Department of Labor. However, the examples below come from states not currently participating in this project’s consortium, signifying that occupational licensing reform is a priority for states nationwide, and not just the 11 states participating in this CSG project.


In December 2016, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin called for the formation of the Occupational Licensing Task Force to study the issue of occupational licensing in Oklahoma and to provide recommendations by December 2017. In January 2018, the Task Force released their final report with a draft blueprint for analyzing occupational licensing. This blueprint can be used to evaluate whether government licensing is necessary in a particular occupation. It takes factors such as public health and safety risks, means to protect public interest, and board member participation into consideration to determine if licensing is appropriate or if a less restrictive means of regulation could be used.

The blueprint starts by asking the question: “Is there a compelling public interest that needs to be protected?” From there, the blueprint calls for using the “least restrictive means that would sufficiently protect the public interest.” The blueprint lists 13 possible ways to protect the public interest, ranked from the least restrictive (market competition) to the most restrictive (occupational licensing). The Task Force is also suggesting that state laws mandating licenses be subject to legislative review periodically — a sunset provision — and that this standard blueprint be used to make sure licensing is the least restrictive way to meet the state’s interest.


Sponsored by Rep. Julie Emerson, Louisiana House Bill 748 establishes a review process within the office of the governor. This occupational analysis would use a two-step process to review both proposed and existing regulations. First, there should be credible empirical evidence of a systematic problem that warrants government intervention. Second, if such a problem exists, the regulation must be the least restrictive form that imposes the lowest burdens and costs while still protecting consumers from harm. Every year, the office will examine one-fifth of the state’s occupational regulations to identify any rules or laws that should be repealed or modified so that they are the least restrictive. HB 748 gives Louisiana one of the most robust licensing review process in the nation.


Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order to all state licensing boards in March 2017 mandating a full review of all existing licensing requirements. It also requires the licensing boards to provide economic justifications for any standard that is more burdensome than the national average and for any license that is not required by at least 25 other states. The Arizona State Legislature followed suit by passing SB 1437, or the Right to Earn a Living Act, which bars licensing boards from writing regulations that restrict entry into a profession if a public health or safety benefit cannot be proven. The new law also empowers individuals to petition a board for further review of a licensing requirement.


Similar to Louisiana’s sunset review process, Nebraska passed an Occupational Board Reform Act (LB 299) which requires state lawmakers to undertake a review of Nebraska’s occupational licensing laws in order to loosen or eliminate requirements that serve as barriers to employment without benefiting public safety. The bill requires that licensing laws “respect the fundamental right of an individual to pursue an occupation” and requires lawmakers to favor less restrictive forms of regulation in circumstances where licensing rules violate that right.

Another important aspect of the bill is a change how state licensing boards will review criminal histories. As a result of LB 299, before applicants complete any required training, they will be able to petition an agency to see if their criminal history would be disqualifying. If denied, applicants will then be able to appeal that disqualification. In some cases, an aspiring worker will go through the entire credentialing process only to find out that a previous conviction disqualifies them from practicing the profession. LB 299 eliminates that possibility by telling the applicant up front whether or not they possess a disqualifying conviction.

The themes from these state examples are similar. States are trying to determine whether legitimate health and safety concerns exist for licensed professions, and if so pursue solutions to licensing problems by finding least restrictive form of regulation while continuing to ensure the health and safety of the consumer.

New Occupational Licensing Analysis Opposes Traditional Theory

A commonly cited argument for occupational licensing reform states that licensing results in restricted employment growth and higher wages for licensed workers, which in turn increases consumer costs. Higher wages benefit licensed workers, but wage disparity leads to inefficiency and unfairness, including reducing employment opportunities and depressing wages for excluded workers.

However, CSG’s analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds no evidence that licensing has any effect at all on wages and employment growth for electricians and massage therapists. Using original CSG time-series licensing data along with occupational employment data from BLS’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, this analysis compares wage trends before and after licensure, to a control state that does not license the occupation at all. Plotting wages for the licensed state and the control state, with hourly median wages on the vertical axis and year on the horizontal axis, while drawing a vertical line at the year of initial licensure shows any potential licensing effect. Deviations from wage trends prior to licensure can be attributed to licensing if the effect is similar across several state comparisons.


When comparing the time series data plotted for licensed and non-licensed states, there is no evidence that these occupations becoming licensed has an effect on wages and employment. The result is most convincing for electricians. When looking at the plotted time series data, the trend lines barely changes at all upon initial licensure. If a licensing effect did exist, we would expect the line to trend upward for wages and downward for employment after a state licenses electricians.  However, when comparing with the control states that do not license, the trend lines hardly deviates at all upon initial licensure. This result is consistent across all three sets of state comparisons.

The result seems to hold even for an occupation within an entirely different industry. The trend lines for massage therapists are more erratic, but still do not seem to support a possible licensing effect. There must be other effects at work causing the wage and employment lines to shift, but these shifts do not occur in sync with the treatment state adopting a license requirement.

If most economists agree with the assumption that occupational licensing increases wages for licensed workers and decreases what are some possible explanations for this result? It may be the case that a licensing effect takes many years to be seen. The increase in wages and decrease in employment growth could be a slow, gradual process over the course of many years that eventually restricts entrants into the profession, but does not do so initially.

Secondly perhaps the licensing requirements adopted are not severe enough to deter an aspiring practitioner from entering the occupation.


StatesExperienceNo. Of
Length of
Iowa16000, h13187575
Kentucky4, y11615050
Massachusetts8000, h1345330104

Massage Therapists

No. Of
Length of

The above tables from CSG, NCSL, and NGA’s Occupational Licensing Database outline the licensing requirements for electricians and massage therapist in each treatment state where a license was adopted. Based on previous literature, if a licensing effect did exist for these occupations, you would expect the effect to be even more noticeable in the graphs for Nebraska and Iowa. The training and experience requirements for these two states are double the requirements for the other states who also recently adopted a license, yet the trend lines do not suggest that a more severe licensing effect exists.

This result is important to policy makers who are looking for new ways to grow their state’s economy. Occupational licensing reform has been a workforce priority of the two most recent presidential administrations with President Obama’s administration releasing a 76-page policy framework for state officials, and the Trump administration awarding large grants to enhance state occupational licensing portability of which CSG was a co-recipient.

Enhancing portability of state licensing and creating more a more equitable system for vulnerable populations like veterans and military families, people with criminal records, immigrants, and long-term unemployed workers is a crucial need. However, it is not clear from this evidence that deregulation will have the economic impacts that some believe.

If the result of a state adopting a license for certain occupations is negligible for these economic indicators, perhaps policymakers should focus their efforts on things other than deregulation when figuring out how to grow their state economies. Some argue that removing these licensing barriers will result in an influx of new practitioners into the occupation which will stimulate job growth. The evidence from CSG’s analysis does not show that this would be the case. If an occupation becoming licensed does not affect wages or employment, then deregulating an occupation likely won’t affect these outcomes either.

Plotted BLS Data

Occupational Licensure Technical Assistance Available to States

Occupational Licensure Technical Assistance Available to States
Tuesday, July 18, 2 p.m. EDT
FREE CSG eCademy webinar 

The Council of State Governments has announced a new technical assistance project called Occupational Licensing: Assessing State Policy and Practice for state leaders. Through this policy learning consortium, selected states will receive assistance to improve their understanding of occupational licensure issues and best practices; identify current policies that create unnecessary barriers to labor market entry; and create an action plan that focuses on removing barriers to labor market entry and improves portability and reciprocity for select occupations. Technical assistance will be provided through a partnership of The Council of State Governments, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the National Conference of State Legislatures, with support from the U.S. Department of Labor. The deadline for submitting applications is Monday, Aug. 21 by 5 p.m. ET. Only one application can be submitted per state, which necessitates that state officials coordinate to provide a single application.

Download a PDF of the presentation slides.

North Carolina Looks To Ease Occupational Licensure Requirements For Military Families

The North Carolina Senate unanimously passed SB-8 on March 15th which eases occupational licensure burdens on veterans by allowing military members and their spouses to practice their profession with a license from another state while transitioning to the requirements of North Carolina. The bill, sponsored by Senators Andy Wells, Harry Brown, and Louis Pate, is a positive step towards helping military families working jobs that may require a license.

Recognizing professional licenses issued by other states relieves some of the burden put on military families who relocate regularly. Rather than being put out of work while getting re-licensed in a new state, families can continue working while they move towards satisfying qualification requirements for licensure in North Carolina.

The bill only applies to military members and spouses who have performed the occupation in another state where the requirements are “substantially equivalent” to North Carolina’s. Qualifying participants receive a temporary practice permit that is valid for one year. Military families are also no longer required to pay the application fee for licensure if one is typically required in the field in which they work.

Research suggests relicensing policies impose a considerable cost of time and money on workers looking for jobs in another state. Variations in state licensing laws cause military families difficulties while pursuing their careers as they move between states.

CSG executives signed a resolution late last year supporting intergovernmental collaboration on occupational licensing for military spouses. The resolution reports that thirty-five percent of military spouses work in occupations that require a professional license including teaching, childcare services, and nursing. Additionally, sixty-eight percent of married veterans report their spouse’s ability to maintain a career impacted their decision to remain in the military by a large or moderate extent.

CSG recently won a $7.5 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to guide a group of 10 states in improving licensure portability across state borders. The action plan prioritizes military families as a part of the targeted population in need of greater licensure opportunities.

Relieving financial and administrative burdens on these families who sacrifice for the sake of our country is a small way of repaying them for their service. State and local governments who streamline occupational licensing opportunities will ease the transition for military members and their spouses to move across state lines.

North Carolina’s SB-8 is currently working its way through House Standing Committees, but is receiving bipartisan support, and sponsors anticipate it becoming a law in the upcoming weeks. 

The Grades Are In: How Well is Your State Licensing People with Criminal Records?

According to a study produced by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the majority of states are creating barriers for people with criminal records to access occupational licensure opportunities. NELP estimates between 70 and 100 million American (nearly 1 in 3) have a criminal record. Additionally, people with records are on average only half as likely to get a callback after submitting an application compared to those without a record. The structure of current state laws is a major barrier to participation in the labor force.

The study produced by NELP examined existing laws in 40 states, and graded each state based on the effectiveness of their laws at creating licensing opportunities for people with criminal records (see chart attached). The researchers grouped the grades into 5 nominal categories ranging from most effective to unsatisfactory, and developed grades based on these four criteria:

  1. Does the law prohibit the blanket rejection of applicants with conviction histories?
  2. Does the law incorporate EEOC Factors which include consideration of whether a conviction is occupation-related and how much time has passed since the conviction?
  3. Does the law limit the scope of record inquiry or the consideration of certain types of record information?
  4. Does the law require consideration of rehabilitation?   

The study’s primary criticism of the laws was their inconsistent, vague, and unnecessarily restrictive nature. The laws sometimes only applied to certain convictions or jobs, and often gave licensing boards the discretion to decide with little or no guidance.

Some examples of the vagueness: 

  • New Mexico: “Behavior that gravely violates the accepted moral standards of the community”
  • Utah: “A crime that involves actions done knowingly contrary to justice, honestly or good morals”
  • Idaho: “An individual can become a certified public accountant only if he/she are of ‘good moral character’, which means lack of a history of dishonest dealings.”

Twenty-five of the forty states examined received “minimal” or “unsatisfactory” rating. The study gave only Minnesota its “most effective” grade. Minnesota’s law prohibits a blanket ban based on conviction, meaning just because someone has a criminal record that does not automatically disqualify them for licensure. Minnesota also prohibits denial based on a conviction unrelated to the position, requires consideration of the time elapsed since conviction, and lists clear standards for considering rehabilitation. Minnesota forbids licensing boards from rejecting licensure based on a conviction when the individual has been released for over a year and shows “sufficient rehabilitation”.  

Plenty of research exists that focuses on the difficulties people with criminal records face when attempting to find employment. However, with the percentage of American jobs that require licensure growing, policy needs to shift its focus on examining licensure practices. The Brookings Institute estimates nearly 30 percent of American workers need a license to perform their job. Maybe the problem is not a poor job market, but inability to acquire jobs based on state laws that broadly reject applicants with certain records regardless of their qualifications or evidence of their rehabilitation. 

The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC), administered by the CSG Justice Center, reports that licensing boards impose over 25,000 licensing restrictions nationwide. Over 10,000 of these restrictions apply automatically regardless of a crime’s relationship to a particular license, evidence of rehabilitation, or the time since conviction.

Responsible policymaking should address these barriers embedded into licensing laws, and develop opportunities for people with criminal records. Nearly one third of the population are willing workforce participants, but are being denied entry based on their criminal past, and not their current qualifications. 

Overall State Grades