“It’s not right that people have served their time and still can’t make a living and support their families,” said Meko Lincoln, a member of DARE’s Behind the Walls Committee.
Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), the Fair Chance Licensing Coalition, and community members gathered inside the State House on Thursday evening to express public support for Fair Chance Licensing bills S0610 and H5863. The Senate had just voted bill S0610 out of committee earlier that afternoon, a significant moment for the campaign after a year and a half of organizing. Celebrating the victory, the crowd called on the House to follow the Senate’s leadership in criminal justice reform and pass its counterpart without delay.
These bills aim to reduce barriers to accessing occupational licensing for people with criminal records. At least 66 percent of all licensed jobs in Rhode Island have some form of conviction-based barrier built into the license application process, and over 40 percent of the state’s fastest growing industries require licenses. In some cases, ambiguous wording in existing laws allows agencies to deny licensing to people with arrest records but no convictions.
S0610 and H5863 develop a standardized process by which only convictions directly related to the duties of the licensed occupation can be considered in the application for a professional license; provide guidance on how those records should be considered when an application is being reviewed; and create a more transparent decision-making and notification process.
Community members expressed concerns regarding a proposed amendment to the bills, which would exclude people who have been convicted of a “crime of violence,” and could in fact serve as prima facie evidence for state agencies that currently do not have restrictive guidelines in place, creating new barriers for many.
The proposed amendment to bill H5863 had been scheduled for a vote this week but is being postponed by Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence) at the request of the Fair Chance Licensing Coalition. “It’s all of us or none of us,” said James Monteiro, Founding Member of the Formerly Incarcerated Union (FIU) and Reentry Campus Program. “We can’t move forward when some of our people are going to be hurt by this amendment. We are asking that Speaker Mattiello pass these bills in their original form.”
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Monteiro spoke to the crowd alongside Cherie Cruz, FIU Leadership, and Angelo Adams, a member of DARE’s Behind the Walls Committee, a collective of people impacted by the criminal justice system who have spearheaded and led the campaign. “Resistance to the bill is coming from a place of misunderstanding,” Cruz explained. “This bill does not interfere with employers conducting background checks and does not restrict state agencies from exercising their discretion in issuing licenses.”
“We just want to work with legislators and agencies to come to a place of understanding and get these bills passed,” said Adams.
In expanding opportunity for meaningful employment for justice-involved individuals, occupational licensing reform represents an important step in efforts to build stable and safe communities for all Rhode Islanders. One in three Rhode Islanders have an arrest or conviction record, barring a third of the state population from pathways to economic mobility. Bills S0610 and H5863 would increase the pool of skilled workers in a time when growing industries have experienced labor shortages, ensuring the continued health of Rhode Island’s economy.
This legislation is supported by 30 organizations in addition to DARE, including the RI ACLU, Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, the Economic Progress Institute, and Amos House.
Fred Ordoñez, Executive Director of DARE:
Anusha Alles, an organizer at DARE:
[From a press release]
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