Ohio Governor Signs New Law That Lets Ex-Offenders Obtain Licenses to Work

Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation Saturday (HB 263) that will make it much easier for Ohioans with criminal records to become licensed in their chosen field. Previously, the Buckeye State had scant protections for ex-offenders seeking licenses to work, receiving a D- in a recent report by the Institute for Justice, Barred from Working. Now that grade will soar to an A-.

“An honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work,” said IJ Legislative Analyst and Barred from Working author Nick Sibilla, who submitted testimony in favor of the bill. “This bill will eliminate many licensing barriers that have little basis in common sense and unfairly deny countless Americans looking for a fresh start.”

Apart from a small number of health care facility credentials, HB 263 will apply to more than 300 different licenses across 37 different agencies, boards, commissions, and departments.  Among its many reforms, the new law will:

  • Block boards from denying licenses based on criminal convictions, unless the board can prove that the offenses are “directly related” to the license sought;
  • Prevent boards from using criminal charges that didn’t result in a conviction as well as convictions older than five years, unless the latter involves sexual, violent, or fiduciary crimes;
  • Ban boards from using vague and arbitrary standards like “moral turpitude” or lack of “good character” to disqualify applicants; and
  • Enact new reporting requirements to track the number of applicants and licenses issued and denied to people with criminal records.

HB 263 builds off of previous reforms. In 2019, Ohio created a petition process that lets ex-offenders know if their criminal record would be disqualifying, before they invest in any potentially expensive or time-consuming training or coursework. This reform has now been adopted by 16 other states and was recently endorsed by the Trump Administration.

By imposing significant costs in terms of time and money, licensing laws often create substantial hurdles to worker mobility. Those burdens add up to: According to the Institute for Justice, occupational licensing restrictions cost the state more than $6 billion each year, resulting in nearly 68,000 fewer jobs.

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