Fresh Start legislation aims to help remove licensing barriers for prisoners after they are released to keep them turning back to a life of crime

NASHVILLE – Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris (D-Memphis), Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) and Representative John DeBerry (D-Memphis) held a press conference today to discuss legislation which helps ensure Tennessee’s occupational licensing does not keep offenders who have served their time in jail from obtaining employment and getting a fresh start in life.  Senate Bill 2465 would reduce barriers to entering a profession by only allowing state licensing boards to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought excluding certain felonies. It would give those who committed an unrelated crime to the profession they wish to join a “fresh start.”

“When the prison doors open and it is time for those who have served their time to be returned to our communities, one of the most critical factors to keep them from reoffending is an opportunity to make a living,” said Senator Roberts.  “This bill helps remove barriers that exist in licensing so that they have access to employment as long as the offense does not directly relate to the occupation or profession.”

“Last year there were over 13,000 felons released out of our jails and prisons in Tennessee with over 2,200 released from Shelby County,” said Sen. Lee Harris.  “The most important thing we can do to ensure these folks don’t return is to provide them with a path to employment.  Easing restrictions on job licensing will help those who have served their time obtain employment, and stay on the path of being a productive citizen.”

“Unfortunately, we didn’t learn from Nathaniel Hawthorne when he wrote the Scarlet Letter, added Rep. Faison.  “Giving people a criminal record for victimless crimes has done way more to harm society than to help.   This bill is a good start at undoing the huge mistakes we have made.”

Tennessee requires a license for 110 different jobs, many impacting blue collar jobs.  Almost every state licensing board can deny a license to do a job based off a past criminal record, including low-level misdemeanor crimes.

Senate Bill 2465 provides that if a licensing board denies someone a license for a past crime, the board must consider the nature and seriousness of the crime, the passage of time since the crime was committed, and the relationship between the crime and the license sought, among other factors.  It also allows applicants for licenses to petition a state licensing board upfront to determine whether a past crime will disqualify them from obtaining a license. This will help keep them from spending hundreds or thousands of hours obtaining educational requirements for a license in which they will ultimately be denied.

“There are over 1,000 barriers that would keep an individual from returning to productive citizenship after coming out of incarceration,” said Rep. Parkinson.  “This idea and this strategy will remove a huge barrier for some of those citizens.”

Rep. DeBerry added, “If a man or woman comes out of jail and knows they made a mistake and are willing to accept the responsibility for their actions and their behaviors.  If they do everything we ask them to do so that they are accepted and start their life as a productive, taxpaying citizen, then why in the world we get in the way of that.  That is not smart for us as a society.”

According to the Council of State Governments (CSG), nearly 10 million adults return to the community from jails and federal and state prisons each year in the United States, facing significant challenges related to employment.  CSG reported that estimates reflect occupational restrictions can result in 2.85 million fewer people employed nationwide and raise consumer expenses by more than $200 billion.

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