Interstate compacts have a long history in licensing portability policy. These multi-state agreements provide shortened routes to licensing for professionals approved for practice in one state but who seek to work in another.
More recently, Universal License Recognition (ULR) — laws requiring licensing bodies to grant a license to a practitioner certified in another state — have been passed in 12 states. This trend in licensing policy represents a broader goal of states to lower barriers for professionals to enter a state’s workforce, while continuing to protect public health and safety. In that effort to expand eligibility to work, the implementation of ULR, as well as interstate compacts, must address the differences among states in licensing requirements for those with past criminal convictions. There are important variations in the crafting of these licensing laws that can have a significant impact on certain practitioners looking to move into a state with a universal license recognition law.
The greatest barrier to justice-involved individuals utilizing universal license recognition laws is uncertainty. As with occupational licensing in general, there is a significant lack of clarity in whether an individual’s criminal record will bar them from licensure. In the case of relocation, this barrier can be magnified by requirements to be a resident of a state before applying for a license through a ULR policy. This makes the process of relocation a much greater risk if an individual has concerns about their prospects for receiving a license. These laws also commonly require the payment of the same fees required in a standard occupational licensing application process. While cost barriers can affect every practitioner seeking a new license, those with a criminal record often are more susceptible to being unable to obtain professional licensure due to cost. Fee requirements also compound with the uncertainty described above, potentially causing payment to be forfeited before knowing whether a conviction will be disqualifying.
A key difference in the 12 ULR laws that have been passed in recent years is whether the bill was passed as a stand-alone ULR bill or as part of a piece of omnibus licensing legislation. Idaho and Missouri, for example, included a suite of other reforms along with ULR, creating alternative opportunities for fair chance licensing practices and a greater level of nuance in handling applications from justice-involved individuals. Implementation of fair-chance licensing reforms and increasing the ability for justice-involved individuals to gain employment can be a valuable asset for the workforce, and has shown to be a powerful tool in reducing recidivism.
Most ULR laws passed and implemented since 2019 are similar to Arizona’s version of the policy. These took the form of relatively short bills with much of the individual decisions being left to the licensing bodies. However, each of these laws includes a provision that puts a disqualification due to a conviction at the same level it would be for a traditional, in-state applicants. Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming specifically acknowledge background checks and criminal convictions while Utah includes the clause that a denial can be made due to “reasonable cause to believe that the person is not qualified to receive a license.” While this is consistent with existing state applications for licensure and assuages concerns surrounding disadvantaging in-state versus out-of-state applicants in terms of eligibility, states have the option to increase clarity around criminal records in licensing applications with the inclusion of additional provisions for justice-involved individuals.
Idaho and Missouri passed ULR policies as part of broader omnibus bills that included other reforms for justice-involved individuals seeking licensure. In both cases, the bill included provisions that required a conviction to be related directly to the role and scope of the profession. Idaho’s bill allowed prospective licensure applicants to submit an inquiry on whether a past conviction would impact the licensing body’s decision. The inclusion of these fair chance licensing policies, while not directly a part of the ULR provision, indicates a multi-layered approach to increasing mobility and decreasing uncertainty for justice-involved individuals.
Further exploration of fair chance licensing policies like those found in Idaho and Missouri can be found in the CSG Justice Center’s Economic Mobility resources. The National Reentry Resource Center provides the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction which can be used to determine impacts of a conviction on a number of topics state-by-state. Lastly, more information about barriers to licensure for justice-involved individuals and ULR policies in general can be found on the Center of Innovation licensing publications page.
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