Bill Awaiting Illinois Gov. Signature Will Ease Licensing Barriers Ex-Offenders Face

SB 1688 Reduces Licensing Barriers For Ex-Offenders

Applying for a professional or occupational license in Illinois if you have a criminal background can be a difficult process. This is especially true when you do not consult an attorney who can help you navigate around the potential minefields. This past legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1688 (SB 1688) to help reduce licensing barriers ex-offenders face.

SB 1688 reduces licensing barriers in two ways. First, it eliminates consideration of sealed criminal history during the license application process. Second, it give licensees a right to expunge any disciplinary action (associated with their criminal history). If enacted, SB 1688 will be the most sweeping legislation to benefit ex-offenders who want to work in a licensed field.

Elevating Impact of Having Criminal History

Supporters of SB 1688 share a common belief. Should we penalize someone for mistakes made as a teenager, while abusing drugs or alcohol, or suffering from an untreated mental health condition, 5, or 10 years later?

Currently, license applicants must disclose any criminal history they have -- even if sealed. While Illinois law prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their sealed criminal history, this prohibition does not extend to licensing authorities. SB 1688 would extend the benefits of sealing a criminal record to licensing.

SB 1688 will level the playing field. Instead of being judged for past, sealed criminal conduct, licensing agencies must evaluate the applicant he/she is today.

Right to Expunge Disciplinary Records

Another benefit of SB 1688 is that licensees who have been disciplined (solely or in part) due to their prior criminal background will be able to petition the licensing authority to expunge this information.

Let's say, you apply for a nursing license from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). During the application process you disclose you have two DUI convictions. The licensing authority agrees to give you a license but places you on probation. In effect, you are disciplined for your prior criminal conduct. Under current IDFPR rules, your record of discipline is a permanent record attached to your license. In other words, any potential employer will see it.  As one might expect, the inability to expunge one's disciplinary history merely creates new barriers to employment.

If you or someone you know would benefit from SB 1688, please contact Governor Rauner and tell him to sign the bill. He has until August 27, 2017 to act.

(In a later posting, I will discuss what benefit licensed health care workers gain from expunging their disciplinary history from a licensing agency's records.)