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New Ohio Law Eases Restrictions for Obtaining Professional Licenses With a Criminal Record


In January 2019, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed SB 255, a measure that dramatically reforms the state’s laws for occupational licensing. While that has many implications, it’s viewed largely as a measure that will hopefully rectify the state’s considerable problem with employment numbers, the spending of billions of dollars in mis-allocated resources, and lower economic output – as well as its approach toward easing the burdens for individuals with criminal records.

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Why SB 255? Eliminating Barriers to Employment

Senate Bill 255, which is now law, was proposed in early 2018 as a means to create better statewide policies on occupational regulations, particularly for jobs which require some type of professional license from a licensing authority or professional administrative board.

While that includes important professions such as doctors and lawyers – who you’d surely want to be appropriately licensed and carefully vetted – it also includes some 850-plus laws and administrative hurdles for all types of other jobs, from nursing and health care support to childcare, education, and commercial driving.

Though it varies by state, licensing requirements also exist for other jobs you might not expect; like taxi driving, interior design, bartending, make-up and cosmetology, estheticians and manicurists, travel agents, barbers, and more. The licensing process for jobs like these can require aspiring workers to jump through a number of hoops before they can work in a certain field, sometimes even when they already have years of experience, or a passion and talent that could be beneficially utilized.

The Costs of Occupational Licensing

According to non-profit research organizations like Policy Matters Ohio and even financial gurus behind a recent Forbes article, the new law is a critical step toward eliminating some of the biggest barriers for job opportunities, job creation, and upward mobility in Ohio. As they note:

  • More workers in Ohio are licensed workers (18%) rather than members of a union (11%).
  • Nearly 940,000 jobs in the state require workers to have a license.
  • Many of the laws governing Ohio’s licensing rules and procedures are unfairly burdensome, particularly for those with lower income or a criminal record.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 jobs in Ohio (over 1.3 million jobs) are barred or restricted for people with criminal convictions.
  • The average license required of lower-income jobs in Ohio costs close to $190 in fees alone, requires roughly a year of education, a year or so of experience and apprenticeships, and requires aspiring workers to pass an exam.

According to Policy Matters and an Institute for Justice Report, Ohio’s licensing laws have had major consequences on individuals and the state’s economy. In addition to resulting in nearly 68,000 fewer jobs, they cost over $6 billion in “mis-allocated funds,” or wasted assets and costs which accompany strict employment exclusions and restrictions. That includes things like lower economic output, costs of compliance with licensing rules that are excessive and / or unnecessary, and lost potential for those who would have worked in a certain field or occupation if not for licensing issues.

Licensing laws, Forbes notes, aren’t only a problem in Ohio. They also cost the U.S. economy as many as 2 million jobs and approximately $184 billion in wasted assets. Those staggering figures are why professional licensing reform is one area where both sides of the aisle tend to agree, and which both the past and current Presidential administrations have found common ground.

Sunrise & Sunset Reviews

The new law takes an aggressive approach to the licensing problem. First, it calls for the expiration of all state licensing authorities every six years, unless they are reviewed and approved based on their “need for continued existence,” necessity and cost-effectiveness, and whether its rules are of the “least restrictive” nature while still being in the public’s best interest. Experts say that doesn’t mean choosing between licensing or not licensing, but rather the creation of a far less limiting framework which provides options for things such as inspections, bonding, private certification, and registration.

Dubbed “sunset” reviews, these evaluations will focus on a third of Ohio’s licensing entities every two years. Any new legislative proposals involving occupational regulation or licensing will have to undergo a “sunrise” review, which similarly evaluates licensing in terms of restrictiveness, necessity, and costs.

This of course doesn’t mean you might be treated by a doctor or represented by a lawyer who barely scraped by or who practices only because lax regulations let them. Officials have clear guidelines on evaluating the risks posed to consumers, and the need for state-based licensing boards that oversee such occupations to enforce high standards when it matters. The law is more about the impact of licensing on the everyday worker, and the high costs of licensing for the state and the federal government.

What the New Law Means for Ohioans with Criminal Records

One of the new law’s major components focuses directly on licensing issues for Ohio workers with criminal records. Policy Matters reports that nearly 1 million people in Ohio have been convicted of a felony, and roughly 1 in 3 adults has some kind of criminal record. In a state like Ohio, which has over 600 restrictions preventing those with criminal records from finding work, it’s not difficult to spot at least one of the holes responsible for a significant amount of economic drain.

Per the new law, people in Ohio with criminal records have more rights and potentially more opportunities for finding employment.

  • People with criminal records can petition Ohio licensing boards to determine if past convictions would bar them from obtaining a license before they invest time and money into meeting licensing requirements.
  • Professional license holders can similarly request and challenge disciplinary actions related to criminal convictions, and licensing boards must respond in a timely manner.
  • Lawmakers using “sunset” and “sunrise” reviews will carefully consider existing criminal and civil laws, and weigh them against licensing requirements to ensure they are as “least restrictive” as possible, particularly in relation to criminal records.
  • Licensing authorities will be required to publicize disqualifying offenses online.

How Our Ohio Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help

As criminal defense attorneys, our team at Friedman Nemecek Long & Grant, L.L.C., L.L.C. Attorneys at Law knows criminal convictions can come with profound and sometimes life-altering collateral consequences. Aside from potential fines and imprisonment, those who serve their time and “pay for their crime” can still face numerous restrictions – whether it be from the 1,100+ collateral sanctions outlined in the Ohio Revised Code, the nearly 900 restrictions on access to jobs or certain employment, numerous licensing restrictions, or the societal perceptions and common practices used by individuals and businesses to screen out candidates with criminal records.

Overcoming these barriers is a matter which requires better legislation, a more sensible approach to constructive policies, and some old fashioned social progress. In some cases, however, depending on those changes or relying on them isn’t enough. For those facing criminal charges today, working with experienced defense attorneys can be critical to protecting your future – personally and professionally.

Our firm has the experience to handle a range of criminal matters which threaten current and future employment and professional licensing. This may include:

  • Negotiating favorable plea agreements with prosecutors that address collateral consequences and future employment / licensing opportunities;
  • Seeking reductions in charges and / or penalties to preserve a client’s ability to maintain or seek a professional license or certain line of employment (i.e. reducing a felony to a misdemeanor).
  • Representing doctors and lawyers, including attorneys who face license suspensions or debarment over criminal allegations or convictions.
  • Representation of clients charged with crimes involving “moral turpitude,” such as violent crimes, drug offenses, or domestic violence, which can impact professional licensing.
  • Representing licensed professionals charged with state or federal crimes associated with their practice, such as Medicare or health care fraud, white collar crimes, and more.
  • Appeals in state and federal criminal cases involving high stakes and future licensing / employment repercussions.

Have questions about a criminal investigation, charge, or federal indictment in Ohio or anywhere in the state of Ohio? Call (216) 928-7700 or contact us online to speak with a lawyer during a free and confidential consultation.