A state Senate committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would make it easier for people with criminal records to obtain professional licenses, which are required to practice professions ranging from cosmetology to physical therapy in Pennsylvania.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, and Judy Schwank, D-Berks, is a top priority for the General Assembly’s bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.
It would prohibit the state’s 29 professional licensure boards from automatically denying licenses to anyone with a criminal record.
The Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee voted unanimously in its brief meeting Wednesday to advance the bill to the Senate, after amending it to grant greater authority to the state Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs to set licensing criteria for individual professions and occupations.
The amendment is largely technical and leaves the core components of the legislation intact, said Jenna Moll, deputy director of the Justice Action Network, a criminal justice reform group advocating for licensing reform.
The bill would require licensing boards to apply fair, consistent standards when awarding or revoking licenses, and allow them to deny licenses only if an applicant’s criminal convictions directly relates to the duties of an occupation.
Boards would also have to publicly disclose convictions that disqualify applicants from obtaining licenses.
Lawmakers backing the legislation say it will help hundreds of thousands of people with criminal convictions to find stable employment and reintegrate into their communities after serving prison sentences.
Pennsylvania regulates more than 250 types of professional licenses, according to data from Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration. Roughly 1 million people representing 20 percent of the state’s total workforce must obtain a license or professional certificate to do their jobs.
If the Senate legislation becomes law, it would be “one of the most aggressive and fundamental changes” to a state’s licensing system nationwide, Moll told the Capital-Star.