California bills seek to ease hiring of ex-convicts

FRESNO, Calif. -- More ex-convicts could become emergency services workers and caregivers under legislation proposed in California Monday that advocates say could help millions of former felons get jobs.

The three-bill package would generally bar state agencies from denying or revoking professional licenses solely because the applicant has an arrest or conviction for a nonviolent offense more than five years old unless it is directly related to the duties of that specific business or profession.

California narrowly defines violent offenses, and advocates said at a news conference that the measures could help nearly eight million Californians get jobs such as barbers, cosmetologists, or caregivers for the elderly, sick or disabled.

Advocates estimate that about 30 percent of jobs - nearly 1,800 occupations - require professional licenses. However, the bills exempt licenses related to foster care or issued by the Bureau of Cannabis Control.

Opponents fear the bills could jeopardize public safety and endanger vulnerable populations.

"We can't say we want to rehabilitate people and then block them from the jobs that they need when they're released," said Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco. He noted the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation trains inmates in automotive repairs, construction, cosmetology, and firefighting, but they are then denied licenses after they get out of prison.

The legislation is part of a national "fair chance" effort. The National Conference of State Legislatures says at least a dozen states are considering bills to reduce licensing barriers for people with criminal records.

The measures follow existing laws in California and elsewhere requiring most public- and private-sector employers to delay background checks and inquiries about job applicants' conviction records until they have made a conditional job offer.

All three California bills are set for their first committee hearings Tuesday.

AB2138 is opposed by building and contractors associations which say the number of applicants rejected because of criminal convictions already is low.

AB2293 is opposed by emergency medical services associations that say it could endanger public health and safety. Existing state law already allow ex-convicts to be hired if their convictions are unrelated to their duties, the groups note.

There is no recorded opposition to AB3039, which would streamline consideration of caregiver licenses for applicants with criminal histories.
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