Bill to Reduce Barriers to Economic Opportunity for Formerly Incarcerated Californians Passes Assembly

For immediate release:

Legislation will prohibit Department of Consumer Affairs from denying professional licenses to Californians with non-violent offenses

SACRAMENTO--Criminal justice reform legislation authored by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) affecting employment opportunities for Californians with prior convictions passed the Assembly today. Assembly Bill 2138 will prohibit the Department of Consumer Affairs from using arrest or conviction records as the sole basis to deny professional licenses to Californians with non-violent offenses.  

“If the State of California is truly committed to rehabilitation, then we need to walk the walk,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “It is unacceptable for us to provide job-specific training while people are incarcerated and then put up nonsensical roadblocks to becoming employed in those very same professions upon re-entry.”

“When nonviolent offenders cannot find work, recidivism remains high, making our communities less safe,” said Assemblymember Low. “This bill will ensure consumer protection while also providing a more fair and consistent process for applicants seeking licensure in the state.”

AB 2138, jointly authored by Assemblymembers Chiu and Low, would affect the nearly 8 million Californians with non-violent arrest or conviction records and help reduce the barriers they face in receiving a professional license, which is required for 30 percent of jobs in the State of California.  

Reports have indicated that qualified individuals are being denied occupational licenses on the basis of a prior convictions or arrests. Those arrests or convictions are often old, unrelated to the job, or have been dismissed. Even individuals who receive job-specific training while incarcerated are then barred from those professions upon re-entry because they are denied a professional license.

California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation, in part because of the inability of many ex-offenders to secure gainful employment after incarceration. This new effort will allow Californians with non-violent arrest or conviction records to begin meaningful careers and will help the State reduce recidivism.

The legislation will prohibit the Department of Consumer Affairs, which issues licenses under 42 bureaus and boards, from denying or revoking licenses under its issuing authority unless the conviction occurred within the past five years and is directly related to the functions of the profession the applicant wishes to pursue. The bill will also require license issuing boards to collect and publish demographic data regarding licenses that the board denies. AB 2138 will not affect licenses issued under the Bureau of Cannabis Control, which falls under the Department of Consumer Affairs but is a new bureau and has far more complicated licensing regulations.

This effort comes after a statewide “ban the box” bill, AB 1008, was signed into law last year to ensure that prospective job-seekers are not prematurely disqualified from jobs in the private sector based on the applicant’s criminal history.  

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, East Bay Community Law Center, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Root & Rebound are co-sponsoring AB 2138. The bill now advances to the Senate.