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Denying an occupational license for lack of ‘good moral character’

The Associated Press reports on a lawsuit in Pennsylvania:

Courtney Haveman and Amanda Spillane filed suit on Tuesday, with the help of non-profit law firm the Institute for Justice, claiming the state’s good moral character requirement for cosmetologists is unfair and unconstitutional. …

Haveman said her addiction to alcohol led to a number of misdemeanor infractions that inspired her to turn around her life. She has been sober for over five years, got married, had a baby and now mentors women who struggle with alcohol abuse.

She decided to pursue a career in cosmetology, completed beauty school and had a job lined up at a salon. So she was shocked when she learned her license application was denied, citing her moral character. …

Spillane said her addictions led her down a path of criminal behavior and she was incarcerated for burglary. While she was locked up, she said she went through extensive rehabilitation, became a Christian and changed her life. When she was released on good behavior, she worked in fast food until she decided to be a cosmetologist.

“I thought cosmetology was a career I could pursue despite having a record,” she said, adding that the prison where she was incarcerated taught cosmetology to inmates. She, too, had a job lined up at a salon. …

Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, laws prohibiting people from working must actually protect the public. The women’s lawyers say that isn’t the case for cosmetologists, that good moral character has nothing to do with skincare, painting nails or cutting hair.

“In fact, there is no requirement like this for barbers, so it requires good moral character to tweeze a hair, not to shave one,” said Andrew Ward, one of the lawyers with the Institute for Justice.

Pennsylvania requires good moral character for a number of jobs, ranging from landscape architect to poultry technician.

Such a problem isn’t unique to Pennsylvania, however. As Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform recently posted on Twitter,

Vague licensing requirements in NC bar individuals with criminal records from licensure, preventing their ability to seek gainful employment and rebuild their lives.

How vague is vague? And just how extensive is this bar in North Carolina preventing people with conviction records from gaining an occupational license?

As I’ve written here, North Carolina does not have governing standards in place that would restrict licensing disqualifications for conviction records to only those convictions relevant to the scope of practice covered by the license. A bill in 2013 addressed this issue somewhat, but it still gave broad deference to the licensing boards’ discretion:

It stipulated that a licensing board “shall not automatically deny licensure on the basis of an applicant’s criminal history,” but beyond that would allow denial merely if the board “finds that denial is warranted after consideration of several factors, including many details of the crime and the “nexus between the criminal conduct and the prospective duties of the applicant as a licensee.”

This is all the more worrisome because North Carolina has 641 different disqualifications in state occupational licensing laws for having a criminal record.

Disqualifications in state occupational licensing laws barring a license to someone with a criminal record (SE states)

Data source: National Employment Law Project

As you can see from the chart, that’s more than in all but one other Southeastern state.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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