Op-ed: Smart Criminal Justice Reform Can Benefit Kentucky’s Workforce

Photo by Tim Webb

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Bill Lear. Photo: Tim Webb

The following is an op-ed from Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Bill Lear. Find a video with additional information about this issue at the bottom of this article.

Kentucky has a jobs problem.

Employers struggle to find the talent they need, and job seekers cannot find the jobs they want. In fact, there may be as many as 110,000 open jobs in our state, but not enough skilled workers to fill them.

To close these gaps between available jobs and skilled workers, we must broaden our efforts in recognition that this is, indeed, an “all hands on deck” situation. That’s why we are continuing our work on criminal justice reform that focused last year on allowing people convicted of lower-level felonies to have their records expunged to aid their efforts to get a job.

In the current legislative session, the focus is on finding ways to help people who are coming out of prison reenter the workforce.

Numerous studies have shown that the risk of reoffending and returning to prison is greatly decreased when someone is offered the opportunity of employment. Currently in Kentucky, you are not allowed to obtain an occupational license if you have been convicted of a felony.

One solution is found in Senate Bill 120, which would give occupational licensing boards the freedom to decide whether a prior offense should preclude an individual from obtaining a license. A board could deny a license if its members saw fit, and a fair appeals process would be established. But a denial would not be automatic,  as it is now.

Fifty professions– from barbers to funeral directors to HVAC inspectors – would benefit from this change. They would join doctors and lawyers, who already give reentering citizens the chance to seek occupational licenses.

This legislation would help address Kentucky’s workforce shortage by providing work opportunities for individuals who are held back by a mistake from their past. By letting them get and keep a job, it would give them a chance to become more productive citizens, pay taxes, and support their families.

We hope you will join the business community in support of Senate Bill 120. A highly skilled workforce is imperative for success in today’s economy and we need all available Kentuckians to be gainfully employed.

William M. Lear, Jr. is the Chairman Emeritus of Stoll Keenon Ogden

Video from Kentucky Smart on Crime explaining Senate Bill 120 can be found here.

Categories: Kentucky Competitiveness, Labor

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