FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 13, 2014) — Legislation that could help ease the transition from prison back into the workforce for persons with a prior conviction who seek professional licensure was discussed today by a state legislative committee.
The Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations reviewed a proposal, introduced last legislative session as House Bill 384, that would prohibit a public agency or licensing authority from disqualifying someone from licensure based only on the person’s prior criminal conviction unless a clear connection — or “nexus,” as House Judiciary Committee Chairman and HB 384 sponsor John Tilley called it — is made between the type of crime committed and license sought. HB 384 passed the House, but not the Senate, during the recent legislative session.
“If you want to deny somebody the right to work, you need to do it based on a clear connection of direct relationship — what we call a nexus — to the crime committed,” said Tilley.
Before an applicant for licensure could be disqualified under the proposal, he or she would have to be given written notice that a prior conviction may be a disqualifier and would have to be shown a connection between the criminal conviction and type of work sought. An opportunity to be heard before an administrative board would also have to be granted before any final decision could be made.
If licensure is then denied, the person would have the right to appeal.
[pullquote_left]“If you want to deny somebody the right to work, you need to do it based on a clear connection of direct relationship — what we call a nexus — to the crime committed.” — Rep. John Tilley [/pullquote_left]
The proposal is an expansion of current law found in KRS Chapter 335B, which prohibits public hiring discrimination based on a prior criminal conviction unless the crime committed relates directly to the type of work that is sought.
Licensing and Occupations Committee Co-Chair Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, explained his concerns with how the legislation could impact an employers’ right-to-know. “It’s a bit hard for me to mandate from Frankfort and make a professional association prove a nexus to Frankfort on something pretty general like, let’s say, good moral character which I noticed is to be repealed in your bill,” he said.
The last section of HB 384 passed by the House last session would have repealed a section of state law titled “denial of license on ground of absence of good moral character.”
Tilley commented that “I hope that it’s not necessarily about proving to us in Frankfort but more rather looking to a (trained) administrative board.”
Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Michael Brown, who joined Tilley in the discussion before the committee, told lawmakers that the state needs to remove barriers to employment for individuals leaving the criminal justice system.
If those individuals return to prison, Brown said, it is usually “for a much longer period of time.”