Employment is a basic need – everyone has to achieve some form of consistent revenue to survive. Many professions are required by the state to obtain some form of licensure as a means to police their ranks and assure that all those who hold themselves out as members of the profession meet minimum standards. Until 2017, however, many applicants with a felony conviction were barred from receiving occupational licenses, preventing many from finding good jobs in their trained professions.

The Kentucky legislature changed all of this in 2017, amending and repealing parts of KRS Chapter 335B, the section of Kentucky statutes that deals with occupational licensing. KRS 335B.040, which allowed licensing authorities to deny licenses to persons without “good moral character,” was repealed completely. KRS 335B.030 was amended so that “a hiring or licensing authority shall not disqualify an individual from pursuing, practicing, or engaging in any occupation for which a license is required solely because of the individual's prior conviction of a crime.”

Felon applicants may still be denied a license, but the licensing authority is now required to demonstrate a connection between the prior conviction and the license being sought. The applicant also has the right to be heard at a hearing, if requested. Additionally, the licensing authority must notify the applicant of the earliest reapplication date, and inform the applicant that rehabilitation evidence can be considered upon reapplication.

These changes to the law are a positive step for those who have paid their debt to society and are trying to rediscover their places in the world. Expanding employment options for those with felony convictions helps to curb recidivism and breaks down barriers faced by those individuals when entering public life. After all, crime is often born out of hopelessness. Fighting crime at its source means providing better opportunities to alleviate that despair.