Eliminate Occupational Licensing Barriers that Prevent Work-Ready Individuals from Finding Gainful Employment and Rebuilding Their Lives

Policy Background

Nearly 70,000 men and women reenter Texas communities after prison each year,1 and many face significant hurdles to employment, especially licensed professions. Texas requires occupational licenses for more than 25 percent of professions, but automatic exclusions and vague disqualifying criteria for people with criminal records pose barriers to licensure. More specifically, licensing boards may disqualify people from receiving a license if they have been convicted of any offense within the last five years – regardless of whether that offense is in any way pertinent to the occupation. Licensing authorities can additionally disqualify people for a license if a past offense does “directly relate” to the occupation (although that is a subjective standard), and they can point to vague and arbitrary standards like “moral character” when denying a license. Also problematic, current policy makes it overly complicated for people to provide evidence of rehabilitation to show that they have put past mistakes behind them.2 Collectively, these factors can lead to an economic death sentence, creating more instability for returning individuals and their families – forcing them into social welfare programs or back into crime.

While it is critical to give people with a criminal history more opportunities to find employment and become economically stable, it is also important to provide employers with a growing candidate pool to keep Texas’ workforce and economy strong and vibrant.

Proposed Solution

(1) Prohibit licensing boards from disqualifying an applicant whose offense history does not “directly relate” to the occupation being considered; clearly and narrowly define how an offense does “directly relate” to an occupation; and eliminate vague “moral character” standards. (2) Allow applicants to dispute incorrect criminal records or provide evidence of mitigating factors prior to the denial of a license. (3) Require licensing boards to provide clear guidance to applicants who are denied a license about what they can do to improve their future chances of approval.

Relevant Bill

Other Bills Related to Occupational Licenses or Workforce Development

Other Materials


1 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, FY 2017 Statistical Report, 3.

2 Maurice Emsellem, Fair Chance Hiring: Reducing Criminal Records Barriers to Employment Improves Public Safety and Builds Stronger Communities, 2014.

See also: Texas Occupations Code §53.021 – §53.023.