The House Judiciary B Committee has just passed Senate Bill 2792, sponsored by Senator John Horhn.

The bill expands Mississippi’s existing policy that the state is going to allow ex-offenders to obtain an occupational license, unless the ex-offender’s crime is directly and rationally related to his or her professional duties.

Sen. Horhn’s bill is based on legislation that MCPP championed in 2019. That first Fresh Start law, according to the Institute for Justice, was one of the best in the nation. Observes the Institute, “Following wide-ranging reforms in 2019, Mississippi now has some of the best laws in the country for ex-offenders seeking licenses.” This expansion of Fresh Start would make it even easier for ex-offenders to get a job and support their families.

Several boards in Mississippi have “good character” or “moral turpitude” bans that prohibit all ex-offenders from obtaining a license. Not every board has such a ban, but many do. Fresh Start creates a presumption on behalf of the ex-offender that if he or she meets all the requirements of a potential profession – and if the crime is unrelated to the profession – that person should be able to obtain a license. This particular bill adds to the list of professions eligible under Fresh Start.

Studies show that onerous licensing laws increase recidivism. According to a report published by Arizona State University, states with heavier occupational licensing restrictions have much higher 3-year recidivism rates.

Expanding Fresh Start has four primary benefits. First, it will protect more boards from litigation. We have already had one lawsuit against a board over this issue (Chunn v. Miss. (2015)). Instead of blanket bans, courts prefer a more rational approach to blocking ex-offenders from obtaining an occupational license.

Second, Fresh Start will increase employment opportunities for ex-offenders who are serious about turning their lives around. We are talking about good jobs, not just service jobs. If someone is going to invest thousands of dollars to get an education, take tests and get a license, it is clear that they want to do the right thing and stay out of trouble.

Third, by helping people work, taxpayers will benefit, as we see savings from people getting off of welfare and beginning to pay taxes.

Finally, Fresh Start will help increase diversity in Mississippi’s workforce. A disproportionate number of ex-offenders are minorities. This is a great way to increase minority employment and entrepreneurship. Moreover, Mississippi has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the country. Fresh Start will help fix that.

Sen. Horhn’s Fresh Start bill now goes before the full House for consideration.