Counties Concerned about Occupational License Change’s Impact on Local Programs

On Thursday, March 14, Natasha Mehu submitted written testimony to the Judicial Proceedings Committee in opposition to SB 974 Occupational Licenses or Certificates – Application Determinations – Use of Criminal History.

This bill would prohibit specified state and local licensing authorities from denying an occupational license or certificate applicant due to a prior criminal nonviolent conviction. Counties are concerned the bill may impact local licensing considerations as their own licensing programs tend to ask about criminal histories for security-sensitive occupations or in positions that work with vulnerable populations.

From the MACo Testimony:

[SB 974] repeals existing statutory provisions regarding the denial of a license solely because of an applicant’s prior criminal conviction as well as several additional considerations an authority may make for determining whether to deny an application. Additionally, the bill allows an individual to petition to the state or local licensing authority at any time to determine whether their prior conviction would make them ineligible. It also requires state and local licensing authorities to list on their applications specific criminal convictions that would disqualify an applicant.

Counties understand the desire to remove barriers to employment for individuals with prior convictions. In recent years, some counties have even taken steps on a local level to implement “ban the box” or other sorts of local legislation that limit when and how businesses may ask about prior convictions; but even those laws have separate provisions for occupations working with vulnerable populations. The concern remains that SB 974 may unintentionally create conflict with local laws meant to help ex-offender applicants. Additionally, counties have a responsibility to protect vulnerable populations and residents in security-sensitive situations. SB 974 – though well-intentioned – removes tools that would allow counties to appropriately evaluate an applicant’s suitability for a position working with these populations.

For more on 2019 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.