Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for D.C. Residents – NELP D.C. Council Testimony

Last week, NELP provided testimony in support of the “Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0440),” a bill that, if enacted into law, will provide a transparent and equitable licensing process to thousands of D.C. residents.

An occupational license is a credential often offered by a government entity, licensing board or authority that indicates that a person is qualified, certified, or suitable for a job.  Currently, more than 25% of jobs – jobs in sectors like healthcare, education, cosmetology, and construction – in the U.S. require an occupational license. Licensed positions typically result in higher wages and stronger employment likelihood for workers. Because employment and higher wages are linked to decreasing the likelihood of reincarceration, occupational licensing legislation is a commonsense criminal justice reform.

Although licensing is often a pathway for economic advancement and security, barriers to obtaining a license for people with records are common impediments that this legislation hopes to remove.  In Washington D.C., a city where an estimated 67,000 residents have a criminal conviction, removing barriers like blanket bans and the inclusion of outdated records in licensing decisions is crucial to reentry reform.

This legislation builds upon other fair chance reforms by providing “ban the box” protections. Licensing boards are restricted from inquiring into an applicant’s history until the applicant has otherwise been qualified for licensure.

This bill also provides protections to applicants by requiring that boards only consider record information that is directly related to the license being sought. Licensing boards will only be able to consider components of offenses that are connected to the specific roles and responsibilities of the job. Additional factors like the age of the applicant at the time the offense was committed, the length of time that has passed since the offense was committed, and the circumstances related to the offense, not only add a layer of security for applicants but also support efforts to reduce bias and stigma often associated with conviction or arrest records.

This Amendment Act also instills transparency into the licensing process by mandating a two-step denial and waiver mechanism that guarantees due process for workers with records. The bill requires boards to provide written notice prior to a final decision being made informing the applicant of a potential license denial, revocation, or suspension. The notice includes information about the offense, a copy of the record that the Board is referencing, the applicant’s right to request a hearing, and notification that the applicant may provide proof of record inaccuracy.  After receiving this notice, applicants would have 30 business days to provide evidence that they are fit for the job by sending supporting documentation like letters of reference or other rehabilitative efforts. The board will then make a final decision based on an individualized assessment of the applicant – an evaluation system that has been proven to be beneficial to workers with records.

Bill 23-0440 will advance future policy reforms for licensing by requiring an annual report capturing data points that include this legislation’s impact on people with records. Reporting statistics on the number of individuals with a criminal history who obtained a license, the number of individuals with a criminal history that appealed final decisions, and a description of how boards facilitated access to licenses for people with records will help ensure accountability and provide transparency to applicants and workers.

If enacted, “The Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Act of 2019” will be another benchmark in the licensing reform movement ranging all over the U.S., from red states like Texas and Indiana to blue states like California and neighboring Maryland. NELP applauds the District of Columbia for taking this step toward becoming the next jurisdiction to have licensing law protections for workers with records.

The record for bill 23-0440, the “Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Amendment Act of 2019” is open until the end of the business day on February 12, 2020. Written statements can be submitted to the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety at

Related to

About the Author

Shayla Thompson

Areas of expertise:
  • Health & Safety,
  • Research,
  • Workplace Equity

Senior Program Manager

The Latest News

All news