In Forbes, Jared Meyer of the Foundation for Government Accountability interviewed Tennessee Senator Kerry Roberts on three recent reforms to Tennessee’s occupational licensing reforms.
First, the Fresh Start Act, legislation that rolls back restrictions on ex-cons from becoming licensed, making it easier for them to be gainfully employed after incarceration. Said Roberts,
Tennessee has about 57,000 people incarcerated and the state spends over $900 million annually on corrections. Tennessee has license requirements for 110 jobs, and nearly all occupational licensing boards could deny a license based on criminal records, including misdemeanors.
The Fresh Start Act prevents boards from using ambiguous standards to deny applicants with criminal records occupational licenses. The boards now must consider only convictions that are directly related to working safely in an occupation. This means boards cannot say applicants with “any felony,” “moral turpitude,” or a lack of “good character” automatically are banned from working in an occupation.
About a dozen other states have passed fresh start laws in the past year, and the reform is currently being considered by some other states.
The next reform discussed was a measure that allowed apprenticeship to serve as an alternative to occupational licensing.
When preparing workers for jobs, we should care about proven competence—not the amount of time spent training. That is why my bill allows for the creation of competency-based, private-sector apprenticeships to serve as an alternative path to work from costly licensing laws. As long as a worker completes a government registered or recognized apprenticeship and passes any required licensing test, licensing boards must issue that worker a license.
Many, including the Trump Administration, have pushed to expand apprenticeships in the private sector as an on-ramp to the labor market for unskilled workers, but few have proposed it as an alternative to licensing requirements.
Finally, Meyer and Roberts discuss legislation that waived fees for low-income applicants, specifically those on state or federal public assistance such as TANF, Medicaid, or SNAP.
On average, lower-income occupations in Tennessee require $327 in fees—and that doesn’t even include mandated education and training costs. These fees make it harder for low-income individuals to climb the economic ladder. Though $327 may not pose a barrier to affluent applicants, it is much more than what a week of groceries for a family of four costs. When it comes to occupational licensing, every additional dollar or training requirement creates a higher barrier to work.
Ohio is also considering a similar bill to waive fee requirements for lower-income residents (though the Ohio bill is based on income).
There is no shortage of ideas to reform occupational licensing laws across the U.S., and while some are more aggressive than the Tennessee trio discussed by Kerry and Meyer, these incremental reforms aren’t insignificant despite their modest scope. They will make a real difference in the lives of those affected and are the baby steps needed to show the benefits of reform.