On June 24 2020, the General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 637 which reforms occupational licensing by getting rid of outdated criminal record restrictions for the professions and occupations which are regulated by boards and commissions within the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA).
Prior state law perpetuated racial disparities in arrests in the criminal justice system by disproportionately keeping persons of color out of the licensed professions for convictions that are long past or have no relationship to the duties of the profession. It also hampered workforce development by excluding otherwise fully qualified professionals from working in licensed occupations, even when employers wished to hire them. By removing these barriers, the bill will help thousands of Pennsylvanians join in the economic recovery from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- SB 637 requires disqualifying convictions to be related to the practice of the occupation.
- Out with the old: Previously, license applicants could be excluded for any felony for the rest of their lives. They would also be rejected based on vague phrases such as “moral turpitude” or “good moral character.”
- In with the new: Under the bill, applicants can only be denied for convictions that are directly related to the practice of the profession, or where the applicant’s criminal actions demonstrate a substantial risk to coworkers or customers.
- Individualized consideration of applicants’ suitability: Applicants who otherwise would be rejected based on their records will have an opportunity to present evidence of their fitness for the occupation. Automatic bans on licensure would be limited to sex crimes, serious crimes of violence, or drug trafficking offenses.
- Rules will be clear and transparent: Currently, BPOA boards have no regulations or policies guiding their consideration of criminal records. SB 637 requires publication of a list of the crimes that are directly related to each profession and that will be applied in licensure decisions. The Department of State will publish a guide for potential applicants, explaining how a record may affect their likelihood of obtaining a license and describing steps they can take, if necessary, to prove that they would not pose a risk to clients or coworkers.