Illinois Eases Licensing Barriers for Ex-Offenders

IDFPR Applicants Will Face Fewer Licensing Barriers Due to a Criminal Background

Starting January 1, 2018, ex-offenders applying for a professional or occupational license will experience fewer licensing barriers due to their criminal history background, thanks to Public Act 100-0286 (SB 1688).

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) will be guided by agency-wide rules specifying what criminal record information can be used to determine if someone should receive a professional or occupational license. Currently, these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Although Illinois does not have a blanket policy against issuing a license to someone with a criminal record, a common misconception persists that ex-offenders need not apply. And, if they do apply and receive a “deficiency letter” – an IDFPR letter requesting more criminal history information – many applicants immediately abandon their efforts to get licensed.

Only Unsealed Criminal Records Can be Considered

SB 1688 ensure that everyone who has a criminal record will be subject to same following procedural safeguards:

  • Sealed or expunged criminal records will no longer be considered (except sealed forcible felony convictions for health care worker applicants);
  • Only adult convictions will be considered;
  • All mitigating factors and evidence of rehabilitation should be considered in determining whether a prior, unsealed conviction impairs someone’s ability to engage in the field for which he/she is seeking a license, and;
  • If someone is denied a license, in whole or in part, due to his or her criminal history, the licensing authority must provide a written explanation for its denial.

Right to Expunge Disciplinary Records Expanded      

Currently, the only disciplinary action eligible to be expunged by the IDFPR includes the following conduct: 1) failure to pay taxes or student loans; 2) continuing education; 3) failure to timely renew license; and 4) failure to obtain/renew certificate of registration or ancillary license. The rules of expungement do not extend to disciplinary action taken by the IDFPR because someone has a criminal background.

Between 2011 and 2015, approximately 800 ex-offenders who received a license from the IDFPR were disciplined (probation or reprimand) because of a prior criminal conviction or for failing to properly disclose their record. A license issued on probation is an “encumbered” license. Discipline, on whatever grounds, leaves a permanent stain on someone’s license.  It is akin to the proverbial Scarlet Letter.

SB 1688 expands the expungement rules to include disciplinary action taken in response to criminal history or criminal charges, provided that:

  • the criminal conduct (pre-license or post-license) is unrelated to the licensee’s professional activity;
  • the criminal charges were subsequently dismissed; or
  • the criminal record was sealed.

Unfortunately for licensed health care professionals (or any other licensee whose disciplinary record must be reported to a third-party licensing data bank) the ability to expunge the IDFPR’s disciplinary action will not free these licensees from the consequences of the IDFPR’s arbitrary -- and possibly discriminatory -- practice of penalizing new licensees for past criminal conduct.

In a separate posting, I will discuss why licensed health care professionals face intractable obstacles to rebuilding their careers once they’ve been disciplined by a licensing authority.