All too often, ex-offenders are released from prison and unable to land a job because of licensing restrictions. The “Mississippi Fresh Start Act” would provide a second chance.

Introduced by Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon), House Bill 1284, which has cleared the Judiciary A Committee and is headed to the full House, would prohibit occupational licensing boards from using rules and policies to create blanket bans that prevent ex-offenders from working.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 2781, has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg). It has cleared the Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency Committee, but a reverse-repealer was added in committee.

Under the proposed legislation, licensing authorities would no longer be able to use vague terms like “moral turpitude” or “good character” to deny a license.

Rather, they must use a “clear and convincing standard of proof” in determining whether a criminal conviction is cause to be denied a license. This includes nature and seriousness of the crime, passage of time since the conviction, relationship of the crime to the responsibilities of the occupation, and evidence of rehabilitation on the part of the individual.

An individual may request a determination from the licensing authority on whether their criminal record will be disqualifying. If an individual is denied, the board must state the grounds and reasons for the denial. The individual would then have the right to a hearing to challenge the decision, with the burden of proof on the licensing authority.

If this legislation passes, it would provide hope for ex-offenders who want to turn their lives around and learn a trade so that they can better support themselves and their families.