On the Road to a Fresh Start in Ohio

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Now, more than ever, Ohioans need jobs. As the state’s economy reawakens after the COVID-19 lockdown, so does the push to get workers back into the workforce. For many, that means returning to their previous jobs—if they even still exist. For those who cannot go back to their previous jobs, reforms are needed so arcane red tape restrictions do not lock them out of the job market.

One such reform, Fresh Start, made it through the Ohio State House this week with strong bipartisan support. Introduced by Ohio State Rep. Kyle Koehler, the Fresh Start Act amends Ohio occupational licensing law to scale back the 100+ regulatory barriers that block individuals with nonviolent, nonsexual criminal records from obtaining licenses.

Specifically, this bill (HR 263) would require each state licensing authority to adopt a list of specific criminal offenses which may disqualify an individual from obtaining their license during the five years since the date of conviction or release from incarceration (whichever is later). Boards would be directed to determine which offenses are relevant to the practice of the occupations they regulate. Nonviolent, nonsexual offenses may not be considered if more than five years has passed.

This is no small group of people. There are more than 330,000 Ohio residents behind bars or under criminal justice supervision—78,000 behind bars and 233,000 under probation as of last summer. Roughly 19,000 are under parole. That’s a lot of potential for the Ohio economy and workforce with little choice but to be left on the sidelines.

These men and women are already serving their time and paying their dues—their punishment shouldn’t extend through the rest of their lives. If our goal is to end the cycle of poverty and prevent former offenders from offending again, it’s vital that we help those exiting prisons and jails enter the workforce. After all, a Fresh Start begins with a job.

Thank you to Rep. Koehler for his leadership on this critical issue that will impact the lives of countless Ohioans who deserve a Fresh Start, and thank you to the Leadership on both sides of the aisle in the House for making this reform a priority. Rep. Koehler’s Fresh Start Act is one huge step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing the Senate take on this important issue.