FRANKFORT, Ky. — A state legislative panel heard testimony Wednesday on ways to encourage Kentuckians with criminal histories to pursue careers requiring occupational licenses.
“At the heart of what we are trying to do is make sure people have the opportunity to be gainfully employed,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations.
He explained that increasing access to good-paying jobs for Kentuckians with criminal records saves taxpayer money through reduced recidivism and incarceration.
Martin Harris, a legal fellow at The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, testified that 19.4 percent of jobs in Kentucky require an occupational license. He said the No. 1 step lawmakers could take to get ex-felons in careers requiring occupational licenses would be to mandate so-called pre-application determinations. That’s when prospective applicants know whether their criminal record is disqualifying before investing in the training and education required for the license.
That’s important, Harris said, because a cosmetology license in Kentucky requires 1,500 hours of training within five years of enrolling in school. He said the tuition for that training averages $12,500.
“It really lessens the burden on the applicants,” Harris said. “It lets them know well in advance, so they don’t have to incur that cost.”
He said 19 states already mandate pre-application determinations. That includes Tennessee, North Carolina and Arkansas, three states with decentralized licensing agencies similar to Kentucky.
Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, asked who would pay for the additional costs of administering pre-application determinations.
Joshua Gaines, a senior policy analyst with the CSG Justice Center, testified that many states charge a nominal fee to review the application ahead of time. He said such fees discourage people not interested in following through with the required training from seeking pre-application determinations.
Other recommendations Harris and Gaines gave included considering pardons, expungements, rehabilitation, non-violent crimes and recent conduct when issuing licenses.
Any possible legislation would expand Senate Bill 120 from the 2017 Regular Session. That was an omnibus bill sponsored by Westerfield that included, among other things, provisions that made it possible for ex-felons to obtain occupational licenses.
Harris said those types of provisions have been dubbed “second chance licensing laws” and copied around the country. He said it is now time for Kentucky to improve on what it had already pioneered.
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