La. House Commerce Committee Approves Occupational Licensing Reforms

BATON ROUGE (The Center Square) — The House Commerce Committee approved occupational licensing reforms designed to help previously incarcerated individuals and improve the licensing process.

Committee members unanimously approved House bills 597 and 639 to change aspects of the state’s occupational licensing system to provide more clarity for felons regarding eligibility and streamlining the licensing process for all applicants.

The bills passed the committee on Monday.

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HB 639, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, would allow previously incarcerated individuals the opportunity to petition licensing boards before attending school or training to determine if a past conviction disqualifies them from obtaining a license.

“Basically what it does is it provides an opportunity for those individuals to be to request prior to getting education whether or not their prior conviction would disqualify them from getting that occupational license,” Pressly said. “I think that’s important when you look at Louisiana and look at the student debt crisis in particular.

“We’ve got to figure out ways to not burden people with tremendous amounts of educational debt … with unknown whether or not they’d be able to qualify for the license.”

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HB 639 would require an individual making a request to provide any identifying information requested by the licensing entity and details of the individual’s criminal conviction, including any relevant information.

The bill would give the licensing entity 45 days to make a determination, and also allows the individual making the request to seek a criminal background check to help make the determination.

“A determination made … is binding upon a licensing authority unless, at the time a full application for a license is submitted, the applicant has been subsequently convicted of a crime, has pending criminal charges, or has previously undisclosed criminal convictions,” HB 639 states.

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The bill also provides a means to appeal a determination, and requires licensing entities to publish on its website whether criminal convictions may be used as a basis for denial, and the factors considered.

Supporters of the bill include The Pelican Institute, GNO, Inc., the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Louisiana Budget Project, Louisiana Progress Action, Louisiana Family Forum, the Justice Accountability Center, Right On Crime, NFIB Louisiana, the ACLU, Smart on Crime, and others.

The Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board expressed concerns about language in the bill, but did not oppose. Representatives from the Louisiana Engineering Society and Louisiana Realtors submitted cards in opposition but did not speak at the committee hearing.

HB 597, sponsored by Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, would provide a means for individuals to request a review of a regulation from an occupational licensing board, to ensure the regulation is the least restrictive method of regulating the occupation.

The bill would also include language to ensure regulations “fulfill a legitimate fiduciary, public health, safety, or welfare objective.”

Testimony in committee featured Daltonio Elaire, a Lafayette barber who was shut down by the state licensing board after launching a mobile barbershop in 2020, despite securing the proper permits from the city. Elaire attempted to work with the board to make it right, but the board rejected his efforts to legitimize his business.

“I really didn’t get an opportunity to appeal,” he said. “Basically, the phone call I received was the end all, be all of it, saying I was shut down and I couldn’t work.”

Freeman shared a story of a cosmetologist in her district who faced similar issues, and argued the problem extends to the state’s 77 other licensed professions.

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, argued that those experiencing issues with their occupational license could work with lawmakers to change the laws or bring legal action, but Freeman argued both of those options are burdensome and cost prohibitive for small entrepreneurs.

“If you have to have a legislator intervene to move you forward in your business, that’s defeating the purpose of entrepreneurialism, in my opinion,” Freeman said.

Freeman stressed that HB 597 would force occupational licensing boards to justify the legitimate fiduciary, public health, safety or welfare objection of restrictive regulations.

Pelican Institute CEO Daniel Erspamer, who testified in favor of the bills, lauded their approval by the committee on Monday.

“Countless Louisianans face a maze of arbitrary regulations just to find work. Louisiana should be making it easier for people to get jobs and follow their dreams, not putting gup unnecessary roadblocks,” he said. “We applaud the House Commerce Committee for passing House Bills 597 and 639 which would open up pathways to opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs in the Pelican State.”

Both bills are now before the full House for consideration.

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