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How This Law is Giving More Mississippians a Fresh Start

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This year, the Mississippi legislature passed Senate Bill 2781, called the Fresh Start Act. The intent of the Fresh Start Act is to expand work opportunities for people who were formerly incarcerated. Even after their sentence is completed, many people face barriers to work when they re-enter the community.

In Mississippi, dozens of different occupations require a license from the state to work in that field. Occupations from doctors, attorneys, and teachers require a license, as well as barbers, tattoo artists, and eyebrow threaders. The Institute for Justice ranks Mississippi as the “19th most broadly and onerously licensed state” in the country. Over 60 of these licensed occupations are low-to-mid-income professions, many of which are prime jobs for people re-entering the workforce after a period of incarceration.

These licensing regulations can create significant barriers to entry for people seeking to work in a particular field, but the hurdles are even higher for those who have been incarcerated. Many of these regulations impose restrictions on people with criminal convictions, while some make it illegal for anyone with a conviction of any kind to seek a job in the field of their choice. While private employers are free to conduct background checks and hire whoever they see fit for a particular job, occupational licensing regulations prevent job seekers from even looking for work in certain fields if they have a conviction in their past.

Because of changes made in the legislature, the Fresh Start Act only applies to administrative regulations, not regulations in statute. This means that the bill only applies to 9 occupations. These occupational licensing boards may still consider criminal records of applicants, but only if the convictions are directly related to the occupation at hand. This change applies to applicants seeking to get a license to work in the following fields:

  • Tattoo and body piercing
  • Pediatric extended care centers
  • Brain injury rehabilitation facilities
  • Eye enucleation
  • Medical radiation technologists
  • Dialysis technicians
  • Respiratory care practitioners
  • EMTs
  • Well drillers

The good news for job seekers is that the regulations for seven of occupations have already been updated, or are in the process of being updated. The two that have not yet been changed are for EMTs and well drillers. Empower Mississippi joined the Mississippi Justice Institute and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy in notifying those regulatory boardsthat the Fresh Start Act requires those regulations to be updated as well.

Because this version of the Fresh Start Act is limited, there’s much more work to be done to ensure that all Mississippians are able to pursue a license to work in the field of their choice. Occupational licensing reform is important not only to grow our state’s workforce, but also to support and improve public safety. A study from Arizona State Universityfound that these types of occupational licensing restrictions increase recidivism, heightening the chances that people leaving prison will commit another crime.

“This study estimates that between 1997 and 2007 the states with the heaviest occupational licensing burdens saw an average increase in the three-year, new-crime recidivism rate of over 9%. Conversely, the states that had the lowest burdens and no such character provisions saw an average decline in that recidivism rate of nearly 2.5%”

Turning Shackles into Bootstraps: Why Occupational Licensing Reform Is the Missing Piece of Criminal Justice Reform by Steven Slivinski, Senior Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Economic Liberty W.P. Carey College of Business, Arizona State University

When people can’t legally work, they are more likely to return to criminal activity to make ends meet. To continue expanding our workforce and reducing crime, Mississippi should continue expanding the Fresh Start Act to cover other job fields. Empower Mississippi is committed to supporting the Mississippi legislature’s work to remove barriers to work and expand opportunity for all Mississippians.

More Resources:

A short video explaining how Fresh Start works.

Report: Why Occupational Licensing is a barrier to work in Mississippi.