Legislation Aims to Increase Access to Infrastructure Jobs

NEW ORLEANS — On Jan. 5, U.S. Rep. Troy A. Carter, Sr. (D-La.) and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) introduced the bipartisan TWIC Efficiency (TWICE) Act. The legislation, which was drafted with support from economic development nonprofit Greater New Orleans Inc., aims to improve access to the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program for people who have been released from a correctional facility and/or have a criminal record.

TWIC cards are often required for employment at major maritime-related transportation and infrastructure hubs, including ports, terminals, factories, refineries and power plants. Across the country, there are over 13,000 vessels and 3,200 facilities under TWIC’s jurisdiction, including some in greater New Orleans. 

A GNO Inc. spokesperson said these professions are in high demand and critical to the supply chain, yet are “egregiously affected” by labor shortages. The TWICE Act aims to change the process to allow more workers with criminal backgrounds to have access to those jobs.

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GNO Inc. said between 70 and 100 million U.S. residents, or approximately 27% of the total population, have criminal records. Under current rules, if the Transportation Security Administration’s background check identifies a TWIC applicant’s disqualifying criminal offenses or another concern, a “Preliminary Determination of Ineligibility” is issued. This can be appealed or waived, which currently may take 90 days or longer. Only 38% of disqualified applicants complete the appeal process, despite less than 1% receiving rejections based on merit. 

“The TWICE Act not only increases economic mobility for citizens, it also improves the movement of goods across the country,” said Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., in a press release. “More Louisianians will now be able to play meaningful roles in fueling and feeding the world due to the state’s established leadership in energy, advanced manufacturing, trade, and logistics.”

The TWICE Act would not allow more applicants to access employment without TWIC eligibility, but it would assist individuals who are appealing or requesting exceptions to TSA’s preliminary determination. The legislation will also support individuals currently in prison by helping them apply for TWIC cards.

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“I am passionate about making sure our criminal justice system is fair and that returning citizens have every possible opportunity for success when they come home,” said Rep. Carter. “So many jobs in the United States require a TWIC card just to work behind a secure facility’s gate. Louisiana’s industry is begging for this workforce. This bill will help make reentry more successful and ensure that workforce training can improve people’s lives.”

Champions of the bill said its reforms will allow additional jobseekers to enter the workforce and expand the candidate pool for employers. They also believe it will help reduce recidivism, because statistics show that individuals are less likely to commit crimes when they have stable, full-time employment.

“I’ve often observed, in the course of my life, that a man’s character shouldn’t be measured by how he falls, it should be measured by how he stands back up,” said Higgins. “Americans are loving and compassionate, we believe in second chances, and this bill will help men that want to help themselves.”

The TWIC program was created in the wake of the September 11 attacks to help screen workers who require access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels, but GNO Inc. said a 2019 security assessment shows that “the great majority of people with disqualifying criminal histories present no terrorism risk.’’

“The TWICE Act is a commitment to fostering equitable economic growth through expanded job opportunities while ensuring national security,” said Harrison Crabtree, director of the World Trade Center New Orleans. “In empowering individuals with expanded access, the TWICE Act address pressing workforce shortages within one of our state’s most important sectors. I am appreciative of the congressmen’s efforts to improve access to TWIC program and ensure that our nation’s transportation sector remains at the forefront of our economy.”
The TWICE Act would require the Transportation Security Administration to provide a briefing to Congress within a year on improvements to access to the TWIC program.

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