“Fair Chance” Licensing Policies Across States

Around 1 in 3 American adults have been arrested before they reach 23 years of age and between 70 and 100 million Americans have a criminal record. Because a criminal record can include speeding tickets, it is no wonder this number is so high. However, a criminal record can still inhibit individuals from finding employment or being licensed in particular occupations. Occupational licensing regulations sometimes have a blanket prohibition on individuals with any criminal convictions, or “good moral character” clauses that allow a licensing board to deny a license for an arrest without conviction. This contributes to a large segment of the population being unable to work, even if their arrest or conviction occurred years prior to their application.

As the pandemic reveals greater challenges for individuals pursuing an occupational license, many states have changed regulations to lower barriers that make it more difficult for people to obtain licenses. Some of these moves include removing barriers to licensure for individuals with criminal records. For example, Vermont recently passed  Senate Bill 233, which sets up a process for pre-qualification, or allowing individuals with criminal records to know if their criminal record would disqualify them from licensing before they begin the formal process of seeking a license. Without this pre-qualification process, many individuals must go through years of training and pay fees only to find that their criminal record excludes them from licensure.

However, the interest in modifying these polices was in place well before the pandemic. A majority of states have implemented at least one “fair chance” licensing practice that works toward removing barriers to licensure for individuals with criminal records. Four of the most common policy options include: a “direct” relationship standard, individualized consideration guided by specific factors, pre-qualification, and written reasons for denial. A resource developed by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center compares these policies across states.

“Direct” or “Substantial Relationship Standard”:

  • These provisions prohibit denial of licensure based on convictions without a “direct” or “substantial” relationship to the duties of the occupation.
  • Forty states have a standard that the convictions must have a direct or substantial relationship to the occupation.
  • For example:
    • Michigan Compiled Laws § 338.42 states that “[the individual] is permitted to rebut [if] the substance of the former offense is not reasonably related to the occupation or profession for which he or she is seeking a license.”

Individualized consideration guided by specific factors:

  • Most states with “direct” or “substantial” relationship provisions also include requirements to consider each conviction with an individualized approach. This includes reviewing each conviction in question and considering factors such as the nature of the offense, the age of the applicant when the crime occurred, number of years since conviction, and other factors.
  • Twenty-six states have such policies in place.
  • For example:

Pre-qualification (binding absent new criminal history):

  • Sets up avenues for individuals with criminal records to petition a licensing board to determine whether that individual’s criminal history disqualifies them from licensure before they formally apply.
  • Nineteen states have pre-determination avenues in place.
  • Kansas and Nebraska have similar mechanisms, but the decision is not binding on the board, and Oklahoma’s statute is not clear on whether this provision is binding.
  • For example:
    • West Virginia Code § 30-1-24  states that “an individual with a criminal record who has not previously applied for licensure may petition the appropriate board at any time for a determination of whether the individual’s criminal record will disqualify the individual from obtaining a license.”

Written reasons for denial:

  • Requires licensing board to provide a written response to an applicant on why their particular criminal history prohibits them from being licensed.
  • Twenty-eight states require licensing boards to provide these responses.
  • For example:
    • Wisconsin Statute §111.335(4)(c)1 states that “[the licensing agency] shall explicitly state in writing the reasons for a decision which prohibits the person from engaging in the [trade or profession] if the decision is based in whole or in part on conviction of any crime.”

By modifying blanket bans or “good moral character” clauses, states can remove barriers to licensing that prevent justice-involved individuals from re-entering the workforce. And being able to assess the policy options implemented in other states foster modifications that bring more individuals into the workforce. A majority of states have included at least one provision in their licensing policies to lower barriers to licensure for individuals with criminal records. These provisions usually fall into one of the aforementioned four categories, with the details varying slightly and an emerging consensus on best practices. A chart of the states with these polices in their licensing process can be found below.

States implementing major fair chance licensing best practices

Source: Statutory review by CSG Justice Center, Dec. 2020

StateCitation“Direct” or “substantial” relationship standardIndividualized consideration guided by specific factorsPre-qualification (binding absent new criminal history)Written reasons for denial
ArizonaAriz. Rev. Stat. § 41-1093.04Yes YesYes
ArkansasArk. Code Ann. § 17-3-102 YesYesYes
California 1Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 480 & 4481YesYes  
ConnecticutConn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-80YesYes Yes
ColoradoC.R.S. 24-5-101YesYes  
Delaware74 Del. Laws 262Yes Yes 
DCD.C. Code §§ 47-2853.17; 3-1205.03YesYes Yes
FloridaFla. Stat. § 112.011Yes   
GeorgiaGa. Code Ann § 43-1-19YesYes  
HawaiiHaw. Rev. Stat. § 831-3.1Yes   
IdahoIdaho Code § 67–9411 YesYes 
IowaHF2627 (2020)YesYesYesYes
Illinois20 ILCS 2105/2105-131 (Pub. Act 100-0286)YesYes Yes
IndianaInd. Code § 25-1-1.1-6YesYesYesYes
KentuckyKy. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 335B.020YesYes Yes
LouisianaLa. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 37:2950Yes  Yes
MaineMe. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 5, § 5301Yes  Yes
MarylandMd. Crim. Proc. Code § 1-209; COMAR  
MassachusettsMass. Gen. Laws ch. 6 § 172NYes   
MichiganMich. Comp. Laws § 338.42Yes   
MinnesotaMinn. Stat. § 364.03YesYes Yes
MississippiSB2781 (2019)Yes YesYes
MissouriMo. Rev. Stat. § 324.012YesYesYesYes
MontanaMont. Code Ann § 37-1-204Yes  Yes
NebraskaLB 299 (2018)  YesYes
New HampshireN.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 332-GYesYesYesYes
New JerseyN.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2A:168A-1; 2A:168A-2YesYes  
New MexicoN.M. Stat. Ann. § 28-2-4Yes  Yes
New YorkN.Y. Correct. Law. §§ 752; 753YesYes Yes
North CarolinaN.C. Gen. Stat. § 93B-8.1YesYesYesYes
North DakotaN.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-33-02.1YesYes Yes
OhioOhio Rev. Code Ann. § 4743.06Yes YesYes
Oklahoma 2HB 1373 (2019)Yes YesYes
OregonOr. Rev. Stat. § 670.280Yes   
PennsylvaniaSB-637 (2019)YesYesYesYes
Rhode IslandR.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5.1-14YesYes Yes
Tennessee2018 Tenn. Acts, ch. 793 (SB-2465)YesYesYesYes
TexasTex. Occupations Code Ann. §§ 53.021 to .023YesYesYesYes
UtahUtah Code Ann. § 58-1-501; SB-201(2020)YesYesYesYes
VirginiaVa. Code Ann. § 54.1-204YesYes  
WashingtonWash. Rev. Code § 9.96A.020Yes   
West VirginiaW. Va. Code § 30-1-24  Yes 
WisconsinWis. Stat. § 111.335YesYesYesYes
WyomingWyo. Stat. § 33-1-304Yes   
1 Guidance for individualized consideration is relatively limited.
2 Statutory ambiguity about the extent to which pre-qualification determinations are binding.

This workforce product was funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. The product was created by the recipient and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department of Labor makes no guarantees, warranties, or assurances of any kind, express or implied, with respect to such information, including any information on linked sites and including, but not limited to, accuracy of the information or its completeness, timeliness, usefulness, adequacy, continued availability, or ownership. This product is copyrighted by The Council of State Governments.