2019 Legislation: Improved Access to Employment and Economic Opportunity

The unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated individuals is nearly five times higher than among the general population. Evidence shows that rapid employment following release from prison leads to lower rates of recidivism, but many people need help finding work and reintegrating into the community. The bills below will improve access to employment and occupational licensure for people with a criminal history. They will also improve people’s opportunities to receive job training – providing employers with a growing candidate pool to keep Texas’ workforce and economy strong and vibrant, and helping people live self-sufficiently in the community.

*** The bill with asterisks below was a priority bill on TCJE’s legislative agenda.

*** HB 1342 (Authors: Leach, Allen, Toth, Jarvis Johnson, Rose | Sponsor: Hinojosa), Relating to a person’s eligibility for an occupational license; providing an administrative penalty. This bill takes various steps to improve access to occupational licenses, especially for people with a criminal history.

Legislative Intent: It is the intent of the Legislature to enhance opportunities for a person to obtain gainful employment after s/he has discharged a sentence for a criminal offense, and licensing authorities must construe this intent liberally so as to increase the number of people with criminal records in licensed occupations.

Requirement that offense must directly relate to occupation for ineligibility: Prior to passage of this bill, a licensing authority could disqualify or deny a license to an applicant convicted of any felony offense in the past five years, even if the offense did not directly relate to the occupation. With this bill, only directly related offenses (except for certain violent, sexual, or human trafficking-related offenses) can result in disqualification or denial.

Determination of direct relation to occupation: In determining whether a conviction directly relates to the duties and responsibilities of the occupation, the licensing authority must now consider any correlation between the elements of the offense and the occupation’s specific duties and responsibilities.

Consideration of rehabilitation:  Prior to passage of this bill, applicants who were denied or determined to be ineligible for a license based on criminal history were allowed to present evidence of rehabilitation; however, past statutory language suggested that the applicant should provide evidence of good standing from a sheriff, prosecutor, or judge, despite the fact that those holding office at the time of the conviction may no longer be serving that particular county. This bill simplifies the process by which individuals with criminal records may demonstrate evidence of rehabilitation and good standing, specifically by allowing for evidence of compliance with community supervision or parole as opposed to letters from sheriffs, courts, or prosecutors.

Alternative verification of eligibility: Prior to passage of this bill, the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation (TCLR) or the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) could adopt alternative means of determining or verifying a person’s eligibility for a license, including evaluating the person’s education, training, experience, and military service. This bill expands those alternative means to include evaluating a person’s education, training, or experience while imprisoned, provided the person:

  • previously held a license of the same type for which s/he is applying and the license was revoked due to imprisonment;
  • has not been convicted of, placed on deferred adjudication for, or entered a plea of guilty or no contest to any of various violent, sexual, sexually violent, or trafficking- or prostitution-related offenses; and
  • while imprisoned, maintained a record of good behavior and either successfully participated in a program that prepared him or her for reentry into the workforce in the occupation for which s/he seeks a license, or performed work on a regular basis in the occupation for which s/he seeks a license.

Written notification before license or exam denial: A licensing authority cannot deny a person a license or the opportunity to be examined for a license because of their prior conviction unless the authority provides written notice to the person of the reason for the intended denial and gives the person at least 30 days to submit any relevant information. The notice must contain, as applicable, a statement that the person is disqualified because of a prior conviction, or that denial of a license or the opportunity for an exam will be based on various factors related to past criminal activity and good standing. When a licensing authority does decide to suspend, revoke, or deny a license or the opportunity to take the exam based on a prior conviction, the authority must now also give written notification of the factors that served as the basis of that decision. Similarly, a licensing authority must issue a letter to license requestors explaining factors that served to determine potential ineligibility.

Best practice guide for applicants: By September 2020, the State Auditor must collaborate with licensing authorities to develop a guide of best practices for people with a prior conviction to use when applying for a license. This guide must be posted on the State Auditor’s website, and licensing authorities must also include a link to it on their websites and in each above-mentioned written notification or letter.

License eligibility following revocation for nonpayment: A person whose license has been revoked by TCLR or TDLR is typically eligible for a new license after one year; this bill establishes that the person can apply before the first-year anniversary if the revocation was solely based on nonpayment of an administrative penalty and the person has now paid in full or is on a payment plan and is in good standing.

Restricted licenses for specific professions as alternative to ineligibility: Prior to passage of this bill, TCLR or TDLR could deny, revoke, suspend, or refuse to issue or renew a license for air conditioning and refrigeration contractors or for electricians due to the applicant’s criminal history (including having received deferred adjudication for certain offenses) or for lacking the honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity to hold a license. Under this bill, the person could alternatively be issued a restricted license, with reasonable conditions that require the license holder to limit the scope or location of his or her practice, be supervised, and report to TDLR, including with any change in the license holder’s supervision. A restricted license is valid for the term provided for an unrestricted license of the same type, and it can be renewed by complying with the requirements for the renewal of an unrestricted license. On the expiration of the restricted license term and TDLR’s receipt of a license renewal application, there is a presumption that the applicant is entitled to issuance of an unrestricted license; that presumption can only be rebutted by TDLR’s determination that the applicant failed to comply with any conditions, the applicant is not in good standing with TDLR, or issuing an unrestricted license to the applicant would result in an increased risk of harm to any person or property. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019

HB 700 (Author: Guillen | Sponsor: Powell), Relating to the use of the skills development fund by certain entities and a study and report regarding the effectiveness of that fund. This bill permits local workforce development boards to use the Skills Development Fund – which the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) administers to increase the skill levels and wages of the Texas workforce – as start-up or emergency funds to develop customized training programs for businesses and trade unions. This is intended to (1) remove barriers that impede local workforce development boards from responding to industry and workforce training needs, and (2) develop incentives for such boards to provide customized assessment and training in a timely and efficient manner.

Separately, TWC must conduct a study on and develop recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of the Skills Development Fund, including strategies for better achieving the Fund’s purposes, improving outcomes, and expanding participation in the opportunities available through the Fund. TWC must report on its findings and recommendations by December 2020. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019

HB 714 (Authors: Lucio III, Lopez | Sponsor: Rodríguez), Relating to a reemployment program available to certain veterans placed on community supervision for a misdemeanor offense. This bill allows the establishment of a “veterans reemployment program” to provide education and training to veterans with the goal that they obtain workforce skills and become gainfully employed. Eligible participants include veterans placed on probation, including deferred adjudication community supervision, for a misdemeanor offense after January 1, 2020. A judge granting community supervision must inform defendants of their eligibility for participation, but the judge cannot require participation and cannot impose any probation condition related to the program or the veteran’s participation. Furthermore, a defendant is not required to successfully complete the program before the probation period expires and can continue to participate following completion of that period. If a defendant does fail to complete the program, his or her probation cannot be revoked solely for that reason.

The reemployment program must provide participants access to workforce development education and training courses that focus on useful workplace skills most likely to lead to gainful employment, and they can be individualized based on any physical or intellectual limitations of the participant.

A veteran successfully completes the program if s/he diligently attends and successfully completes the courses and: obtains employment and retains that employment for a continuous period of three months, diligently searches for employment for a continuous period of six months, or is determined by the court to be unemployable because of a disability. On successful completion of the program and all other community supervision requirements, and after notice to the state and a hearing related to nondisclosure being in the best interest of justice, the judge must enter an order of nondisclosure. Signed by the Governor; effective immediately, 6/2/2019

HB 918 (Authors: White; Yvonne Davis; Sherman, Sr. | Sponsor: Johnson), Relating to providing discharged or released inmates with certain documents, including documents to assist the inmate in obtaining employment. When certain people in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) are discharged or released to a Texas residence on parole, on mandatory supervision, or on a conditional pardon, TDCJ must provide them with relevant documentation to help them find employment. This specifically applies to people who are “able to work,” as determined by TDCJ based on age or mental or physical condition. Relevant documentation includes: (1) as applicable, the person’s job training and/or work record while incarcerated, and (2) for a person who completed a pre-release program required by a parole panel as a condition of release, a resume with any trade learned and proficiency at that trade, and documentation of completing a practice job interview.

TDCJ must also determine whether the person has a certified birth certificate and social security card, and, if not, submit a request for the issuance of that document to the appropriate entity on the person’s behalf. The request must be made as soon as practicable to enable TDCJ to provide the person with the document when s/he is discharged or released. This does not apply to a person who is not legally present in the United States, or who was not a Texas resident before being placed in TDCJ custody. Signed by the Governor; effective on 1/1/2020

HB 1483 (Authors: Frank, Goldman, Deshotel, Miller, Rose | Sponsor: Perry), Relating to a pilot program for assisting certain recipients of public benefits to gain permanent self-sufficiency. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) – with the assistance of the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), local workforce development boards, and faith-based and other relevant organizations – must develop and implement a 24- to 60-month pilot program to help up to 500 eligible families gain permanent self-sufficiency and no longer require financial assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance (food stamps), or other public benefits. “Self-sufficiency” is defined as being employed in a position that pays a sufficient wage, having financial savings in an amount equal to at least $1,000 per member of a family’s household, and maintaining a debt-to-income ratio that does not exceed 43%. A family is eligible to participate if: (1) one or more members are recipients of financial assistance or supplemental nutrition assistance benefits, at least one of whom is aged 18-62 and is willing and able to be employed, and (2) the family’s total household income that is less than a sufficient wage based on the family’s makeup and area of residence.

Families will be moved through progressive phases toward self-sufficiency:

  • Phase 1: The family moves out of an emergent crisis. They secure housing, medical care, and financial and food assistance, as necessary.
  • Phase 2: The family moves towards stability. They secure employment and child care (as necessary), participate in services that build the financial management skills necessary to meet financial goals, and have financial and food assistance reduced by a set amount upon reaching a certain percentage of their sufficient wage.
  • Phase 3: The family transitions to self-sufficiency. They secure employment that pays a sufficient wage, reduce debt, build savings, and become ineligible for financial and food assistance upon reaching 100% of their sufficient wage.
  • Phase 4: The family attains self-sufficiency. They retain employment that pays a sufficient wage, amass at least $1,000 per member of their household, and have manageable debt so they will no longer be dependent on financial, food, or other assistance for at least six months following participation in the program.

Each participating family must be assigned a program case manager who will: ensure the family continues receiving financial and food assistance on a slow reduction scale; assess the family’s crisis, review available referral services, and create a service plan; and, during the program’s initial phase, create medium- and long-term goals consistent with strategies for removing barriers to attaining self-sufficiency.

If the number of families participating in the program during a year reaches capacity, the number of families that can be served in the following year can be increased by 20%. Within 48 months of the date the last participating family is enrolled in the program, HHSC must report to the Legislature on the results, including an evaluation of the program’s effect on participating families in achieving self-sufficiency, the impact to Texas on the costs of the financial and food assistance programs and of the child-care services program operated by TWC, a cost-benefit analysis of the program, and recommendations on the feasibility and continuation of the program.

Note: HHSC is only required to implement provisions of this bill if the Legislature appropriates money specifically for that purpose; if not, HHSC can – but is not required to – implement the bill using other appropriations available for that purpose. Signed by the Governor; effective immediately, 5/27/2019

HB 2784 (Authors: Phelan; Romero, Jr.; Blanco; Burrows; Israel | Sponsor: Alvarado), Relating to the creation of the Texas Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs Grant Program. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) must establish the Texas Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs Grant Program to address Texas’ immediate industrial workforce needs resulting from the impact of Hurricane Harvey and overall workforce shortages. To be eligible to receive a grant through the Grant Program, the person or non-governmental entity must operate an industry-recognized apprenticeship program that:

  • provides on-the-job training under an industry-recognized, accredited training curriculum;
  • guarantees employment for participants during and on successful completion of the training period;
  • pays each participant a wage and provides eligibility to receive full-time employee benefits during and on successful completion of the training period;
  • requires participants to advance their skills to a credentialed, performance-verified mid-level status in the field related to the apprenticeship program;
  • has a duration of up to 26 weeks; and
  • gives preference to training and hiring formerly incarcerated individuals, underemployed individuals who are working without industry-recognized certifications or other credentials, unemployed Texans who have filed with TWC, and U.S. military veterans.

The amount of a grant awarded cannot exceed $10,000 per program participant or the cost of training (excluding wages and benefits), whichever is less. In determining the amount of a grant awarded, TWC can consider the increased economic value to the state resulting from (or reasonably anticipated to result from) the participant’s completion of the program, including any decrease in the participant’s use of a state-funded benefit. TWC must annually submit to the Legislature (and post online) a report on grants awarded.

TWC is only required to implement the provisions of this bill if the Legislature appropriates money specifically for that purpose; if not, TWC can – but is not required to – implement the bill using other appropriations available for that purpose. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019

SB 37 (Author: Zaffirini | Sponsors: Krause, Hernandez, Blanco, Oliverson, Shaheen), Relating to a prohibition on the use of student loan default or breach of a student loan repayment or scholarship contract as a ground for refusal to grant or renew an occupational license or other disciplinary action in relation to an occupational license. A licensing authority cannot take disciplinary action against a person based on his or her default on a student loan or breach of a student loan repayment contract or scholarship contract; specifically, the licensing authority cannot deny the person’s application for a license or license renewal, suspend the person’s license, or take other disciplinary action against the person. Any disciplinary action proceeding that was initiated before June 7, 2019, and that was pending on that date is terminated.

This bill also lays out provisions related to specific professions. For instance, defaulting on a student loan does not give the Savings and Mortgage Lending Commissioner grounds to deny a renewal application for a residential mortgage loan originator license; similarly, regarding issuance of such a license, a determination into the applicant’s financial responsibility cannot be based on his or her default on a student loan.

Additionally, the Texas Lottery Commission cannot deny a person a license to sell lottery tickets, or suspend or revoke a person’s license, because s/he is in default on a student loan made pursuant to Texas’ Student Loan Program or as a Guaranteed Student Loan. And the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation are no longer required to provide the Texas Lottery Commission with a report of people determined to be delinquent in paying them money.

Lastly, the Texas Supreme Court can no longer deny a license renewal to a lawyer who is in default on a loan by the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation, nor can the Supreme Court and Judicial Branch Certification Commission deny certification renewal to a court reporter who is in default on such a loan. Signed by the Governor; effective immediately, 6/7/2019

SB 1531 (Author: Hancock | Sponsor: White), Relating to the eligibility for certain occupational licenses and the use of a person’s criminal history as grounds for certain actions related to the license. This modifies licensing eligibility for podiatrists, midwives, electricians, auctioneers, and dog or cat breeders:

  • The Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation (TCLR) and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) cannot refuse to admit a person for an examination or refuse to issue him or her a license to practice podiatry for having been convicted of a felony, or of a crime involving moral turpitude.
  • TCLR or TDLR cannot discipline a licensed midwife, refuse to renew a midwife’s license, or refuse to issue a license to an applicant for having been convicted of a felony, or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.
  • An applicant for an electrician’s license is no longer required to demonstrate his or her honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity.
  • An applicant for an auctioneer’s license is still eligible if s/he has been convicted of a felony during the past five years.
  • TDLR must deny a license or renewal to a dog or cat breeder if s/he – or his or her manager, partner, or other controlling person – has pled no contest to animal cruelty or neglect in the past five years. Similarly, a breeder’s license will be revoked if s/he or a controlling person pleads no contest to such an offense. However, before a license revocation, TDLR must issue a notice of the revocation to the breeder, stating that s/he has 20 days to submit proof that s/he or a controlling person did not plead guilty or no contest to – or was not convicted of, or did not receive deferred adjudication for – animal cruelty or neglect.

Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019