When persons with “backgrounds” in Illinois want to turn their lives around, “we want them to be as productive as possible as quick as possible,” state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, told me.

His bill to prohibit the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation from putting certain jobs and professions out of reach of rehabilitated offenders passed the Illinois House this week and is now on its way to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature.

Should the bill become law, which is expected, 30,000 felons a year completing their sentences and returning to private life in the state no longer will be barred from getting state licenses to work in roofing, hair braiding and cosmetology, funeral services, barbering and nail technology. Unless, of course, the crime for which the person was convicted directly relates to the occupation for which the license is required. Both roofing and barbering project higher-than-average growth rates, according to federal labor-market research.

Eliminating barriers to employment for ex-offenders is something on which right- and left-leaning public-policy advocates can agree. If this proposal works as intended, perhaps in the years to come, the Illinois General Assembly will proceed to put a large dent in the 111 state occupational licenses left untouched by this experiment.

Rep. Evans was quick to credit the critical support and work of the Illinois Policy Institute and the Safer Foundation, as well as state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who successfully guided the legislation through the other chamber as lead sponsor.  As a south side of Chicago resident, Evans said his personal experiences made passage of the bill “very important” to him. It was also a recommendation of Gov. Rauner’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Illinois appears should be commended for making at least these modest reforms, but we still recommend states go much further. Several years back, the North Carolina Justice Center advised the state Legislature that nearly 30 percent of all jobs available in the state required some sort of license. Under reforms the state enacted in 2013, licensing boards were prohibited from automatically disqualifying job applicants based on their criminal records unless a specific statute required it.

Instead of picking particular professions, the North Carolina law mandates that licensing boards consider eight factors before a hiring decision is made. Whether subsequent crimes were committed, how long ago and at what age the infractions were committed, the seriousness of the crime and the circumstances surrounding it all are considered, as well as character references and prison records.

This seems a good approach, and one hopes it will influence other states looking to extend the opportunity for a fresh start to those have done their done.

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