SB 2574: Expand the Fresh Start Act


Senate Bill 2574, sponsored by Sen. John Horhn, expands the Fresh Start Act to make it easier for someone with a criminal record to be approved for an occupational license when the past crime doesn’t directly relate to the license for which the person is applying, or if the crime occurred long ago.   

The Fresh Start Act, passed by the Mississippi legislature in 2019, prevents occupational licensing boards from denying a license to an otherwise-qualified person because that person has been convicted of a felony at some point in their life that is unrelated to the occupation for which they seek to be licensed.   

That law currently only applies to a few occupations.  SB 2574 would expand the provisions of the law to nearly all occupational licenses in Mississippi.   

SB 2574 seeks to prevent licensing authorities from using broad, subjective, or vague terminology (such as “good character” or “moral turpitude”) to disqualify an applicant. It requires that the specific criminal history of an applicant be considered.  

Even if the conviction is directly related to the field in which the license is being sought, the licensure board would still be allowed to issue the license if the offense was committed long ago, and if the person seeking the license has a verifiable track record that clearly indicates they are no longer a threat. But that judgement would be at the discretion of the board.  

The Fresh Start Act also allows an applicant, before going through the training and testing requirements for a license, to receive a determination from a licensing board on whether their criminal record disqualifies them from receiving a license.  

Mississippi has one of the lowest labor force participation rates in the country, and there are more than 100,000 Mississippians with some sort of criminal history that appears on a background check. Obviously, there should be safeguards in place to ensure real threats to public safety are avoided. But those safeguards should not automatically, unnecessarily restrict a person’s ability to get a job or be licensed for a productive occupation for the rest of their lives.  

Mississippi ranks as the 19th most broadly and onerously regulated state in the country regarding occupational licensing, according to the Institute for Justice. More than 60 of these occupations are low-to-middle income professions, many of which are prime jobs for individuals re-entering the workforce after a period of incarceration. A study conducted at Arizona State University found that restrictive licensing practices increase recidivism rates (the commission of another crime by someone who has been released from prison) by making it more difficult to gain employment.  

By expanding the Fresh Start Act, we would provide a path to employment for those with prior records, thus improving public safety, while helping the state fill the workforce shortage gap.  

Empower Mississippi supports this legislation. 

SB 2574 has been referred to the Senate Labor and Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency Committees. You can read the bill here.