By Brianna Rhodes, Special to the AFRO

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) introduced a bill last month that will make it easier for returning citizens to obtain an occupational license in their trade of interest.

The Ward 6 Council member introduced legislation called Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Amendment Act of 2019, along with Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Cheh (D- Ward 3), Grosso (I-At Large), McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Nadeau (D- Ward 2) and Robert White (D-At Large) to help residents who have criminal records obtain licenses in trades such as barbering, plumbing, electrical maintenance and HVAC repair. These particular trades along with a handful of other jobs require a license to work in D.C.

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) introduced legislation that will offer occupational licensing for returning citizens. (Courtesy Photo)

“We say we want people to successfully re-enter and lead productive lives, but I’m not sure everyone realizes just how hard it is to find meaningful employment with any kind of record,” Allen said in the press release. “Returning citizens who have hope and have a purpose, which comes in part from the stability of a regular paycheck, are much less likely to reoffend. Being licensed in a trade is a path to economic security. ”

The bill would dismantle the existing requirements that Allen considers to be “antiquated and outdated barriers.” 

Licenses in D.C. can currently deny those who have been convicted for “crimes involving moral turpitude,” which is interpreted as a crime that “offends the generally accepted moral code of mankind; is one of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the conduct of the private and social duties that an individual owes to his or her fellow man or to society in general; or is one of conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals,” the press release states.

The standards allude that a person with any criminal background can be denied licensure. Allen spoke with the AFRO and said these standards have particularly had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. He also considers it to be an equity issue that prevents residents from contributing to their family, neighborhood and community.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Allen said. “It’s old language and I think it’s language that was put into place to be very discriminatory in the first place. It has no place here. It just holds people back. It holds communities back and that’s why we want to change this.”

The bill will set a standard for a board to fairly evaluate license applications, suspensions, and denials by considering a person’s criminal history if it is directly related to the job they are applying for. Boards will have to take certain factors into account such as if the crime relates to the job responsibilities, how long ago the person has been convicted and “mitigating and rehabilitative evidence,” according to the press release.

If passed, Allen believes that it will give people hope and get into gainful employment. It will also provide more transparency and accountability since boards are currently not required to report information of why they deny individuals from their licensure. 

Also, since 2015, 27 other states have already refined their occupational licensure laws to make it easier for individuals with criminal backgrounds to obtain a license to work. This is significant since 20 percent of jobs require a license, according to Allen. The Council member believes we should be a part of the national movement. 

“We need to get this done. This is the right thing to do,” Allen said. “We’re not leading the pact. We’ve actually been left pretty far behind. That’s why we need to move forward with some urgency and my plan is to help make sure that this is push this to the Council.”