Licensing reform bill removes barriers to work for nurses, barbers, and social workers

Every year, thousands of Mississippians leave the state’s prison system and return to their communities. Having a job is one of the best ways to ensure that they don’t return. In 2022, jobs are plentiful, but Mississippi law prevents thousands of Mississippians from entering the professional field of their choice.

Mississippi maintains dozens of occupational licensing laws that limit who can participate in certain professions. Many of these regulations make it impossible for those with a criminal conviction in their past to work in those fields. These restrictions can be broad in scope, preventing those with even minor offenses decades in their past from finding work in their chosen field.

A bill introduced by Rep. Nick Bain aims to reduce these barriers. House Bill 1196 reduces the regulatory barriers to work for barbers, nurses, and social workers.  Current law allows for individuals with a past criminal conviction to be denied the opportunity to work in these fields, with no limitations on the severity of the offense or the time since the offense occurred. Rep. Bain’s bill instead limits the scope of these regulations, to ensure that people are only denied the opportunity to pursue work in these fields if their conviction directly relates to the job at hand.

The bill builds on the Fresh Start Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill which passed the legislature overwhelmingly and was signed into law by then-Gov. Phil Bryant. The Fresh Start Act states that occupational licensing boards may only deny licenses to work if the applicant’s criminal conviction directly relates to the duties and responsibilities for the licensed field. The Fresh Start Act applied to several occupations, including EMTs, but excluded dozens of professions like nursing, which still include prohibitions in state law.

HB 1196 does not guarantee anyone a job, but it removes government barriers to work. The bill does not pose any new mandates on private employers, who will remain free to conduct background checks on applicants and hire individuals at their discretion.

Meaningful work is essential for successful reentry, and HB 1196 will ensure that more Mississippians receive a fresh start, by receiving an opportunity to work in the field of their choice.