California Enacts Modest Occupational Licensing Reform

Collateral Consequences Resource Center

By David Schlussel

On September 30, 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2138, making California the twelfth state this year to enact occupational licensing reform. This flurry of legislation will make it easier for people with a criminal record to obtain occupational and professional licenses. (As discussed in recent posts, the Institute for Justice’s model occupational licensing act has influenced this legislative trend.) However, California’s take on licensing reform is relatively tepid compared to more extensive reforms in states like Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

In California, nearly 30 percent of jobs require licensure, certification, or clearance. When AB 2138 takes effect in 2020, it will prohibit licensing boards from denying a license based on certain acts not resulting in conviction, or certain less serious convictions after seven years. The law will require boards to consider rehabilitation evidence for any conviction (not just misdemeanors, as under existing law), to establish more detailed criteria for evaluating convictions, and to issue annual reports.

While a more robust version of the bill first passed the California Assembly, it was weakened in the California State Senate, and ultimately, the Senate’s version prevailed. The legislative process and bill’s provisions are discussed in more detail below.

Legislative Process: AB 2138’s purpose is to reduce recidivism and provide economic opportunity for all California residents. A more robust version of AB 2138, passed in the California Assembly, had a number of provisions that would have made it easier for people with a criminal conviction to get licensed and back into the workforce, and would have gone into effect immediately. However, the Senate rolled back a number of key provisions, resulting in a watered-down bill, which preserves more barriers to licensing, and delays the bill’s implementation until July 2020.

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