“Today, Rhode Island’s House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from directly impacted Rhode Islanders on how barriers to occupational licensing that have resulted from a conviction impact their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Together, the testimonies tell a broader story of systemic exclusion – bringing the urgency of inclusion into sharp focus. Legislators have the opportunity to center the human dignity of people who are ready to work. Workers impacted by conviction records and eager to move forward must be afforded equal opportunity to work with dignity.
Currently, Rhode Island has over 150 occupational licensing restrictions that bar people with a conviction record from entering meaningful careers. People are often excluded for convictions unrelated to the license they seek; for ambiguous clauses regarding “good moral character;” and sometimes people are even excluded for convictions that are twenty years old. Nearly one in three working age adults has a record; nearly one in three jobs require an occupational license, and in Rhode Island 70 percent of the occupations that require a license are classified as “lower-income” jobs that people with records could expect to obtain. If Rhode Islanders are to build healthy communities, people need access to meaningful employment with a living wage.
House Bill 5863 is not just critical to the economic stability of people, families, and communities that have been most harmed by mass criminalization; it is also a racial justice imperative for the state. Black Rhode Islanders are incarcerated at a rate more than 6 times that of their white counterparts, while making up just over 5 percent of the population. Rhode Island must address the structural racism driven by systems of economic inequality and mass criminalization in the state.
Legislators must seek to pass this legislation that challenges structural inequities, provides more opportunity, and creates a path toward a #WORKINGfuture for all. JustLeadershipUSA and our campaign for a #WORKINGfuture strongly urge the enactment of House Bill 5863.”