What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 5/20 - 5/24 - News from The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, ACLU of Rhode Island News, RIACLU News

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What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 5/20 - 5/24

Posted: May 24, 2019|

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The passage of out of committee this week of a bill (S 138) which would reinstate a previously repealed statute governing the licensing of medical lab professionals highlighted the way that discriminatory employment patterns are reinforced by actions from the General Assembly. Oftentimes, seemingly innocuous occupational licensing bills have provisions that include expansive and vague language which could render individuals with a criminal background – no matter what crimes they have been convicted of or how long ago their conviction was – unable to procure a license, and hence employment. Such is the case with S 138, which (along with its companion bill H 5367) would resurrect a provision allowing for the denial or suspension of a laboratory professional license for a conviction of any felony or of any misdemeanor for which an “essential element is dishonesty.”

Along with a number of other advocacy groups, the ACLU has long been concerned about the significant barriers that an individual’s criminal record can place on their ability to obtain occupational licenses. It is our position that any use of such information should be focused and limited only to those past criminal offenses which have a direct and relevant impact on the license being sought.

Dozens of licensed occupations in our state have some sort of conviction-related barrier codified by legislation, and every year ACLU finds itself fighting bills that include more barriers to licensing based on a person’s past criminal record. As demonstrated by S 138, this year is no exception. Here are some of the other bills this session which could perpetuate this pattern of discrimination against ex-offenders.

H 5228 and S 267 would require evidence that the candidate is of “good moral character” when applying for a school psychologist license with no standards for what this entails, potentially allowing for prior convictions to disqualify an applicant.

In a similar vein, H 6100, H 6098, S 866 and S 867 would require teacher applicants to demonstrate that they are of undefined “sound moral character.”

H 5572 and S 443 maintain language which includes under unprofessional conduct a “conviction of a crime of moral turpitude,” a vague, undefined, and highly subjective phrase which the ACLU has worked to remove from statute for years.

S 576 and H 6033 include offenses such as felony banking law violations and felony drug possession as grounds for denial of a license for massage therapy, despite the irrelevance of the crimes to the practice of massage and regardless of the amount of time that has passed since the conviction.

In response to this constantly growing list of restrictive legislation, the ACLU is advocating for and supporting legislation (H 5863 and S 610), introduced by Representative Scott Slater and Senator Harold Metts, which would ensure that an individual’s prior criminal record is not the sole measure by which an applicant is disqualified for a license. The “fair chance licensing” bill would also create a comprehensive process for determining the relevancy of a conviction to the license being sought.

This bill has already been heard in the House but will be up for a hearing in Senate Judiciary on Thursday. We will be testifying in support, and we encourage anyone who believes that all Rhode Islanders who meet applicable and appropriate qualifications have a fair chance at obtaining an occupational license to do the same.

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