Here’s a different way of thinking: Let the phrase “paying your debt to society” mean just that.

When a person is convicted of a crime, punishment is usually meted out, fines are paid, restitution is made and probation served. The assumption is at that point rehabilitation has been achieved.

For those who serve their sentences, most try to go on with their lives. Unfortunately, Idaho is among numerous states that prevent those with convictions from obtaining many occupational licenses.

Idaho has 442 different types of occupational licenses such as real estate, pharmacy tech, commercial driver, health care professional, electricians and plumbers. At least 204,000 Idahoans are licensed. There is also a bureaucracy of 13 agencies with 47 boards and commissions to oversee the process.

Gov. Brad Little is spearheading an effort in Idaho as part of a multi-state consortium looking at licensing laws with an eye on reform.

Little and others deserve kudos for taking a serious look at changing licensing laws to be more compatible with 21st century society.

“Decades and decades ago, felonies were relatively rare and very, very serious,” said Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who serves on the Legislature’s interim committee on occupational licensing reform. “But now we’ve had this felonization of America. The need for some kind of reform here I think is quite evident.”

He’s correct, especially when considering the number of felons convicted of drug crimes that populated Idaho prisons.

Throughout the U.S., about one in four occupations require a license, up from one in 20 about 50 years ago, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Roughly one in three adults in the U.S. has some sort of criminal record.

One of the drivers of licensing reform is the low unemployment, which makes it harder to find workers.

“It seems like we have more jobs than we have qualified applicants, and I think this is a way to help with that,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, also a member of the committee.

The committee plans to propose new legislation in January to change all remaining outright bans on criminal backgrounds in state occupational licensing laws to “relevancy” tests instead.

This will allow “licensing boards to consider such factors as how long it’s been since the applicant’s criminal conviction, evidence of rehabilitation since then, and relevancy of the crime to the profession the person wants to enter,” according to an Associated Press story.

Reform of regulations that in many ways are archaic and no longer relevant should be an ongoing effort. Holding someone’s past mistakes over them is counterproductive in most cases. It’s tough enough to do the time then be expected to readjust to life on the outside without having roadblocks to a potential job.

With this reform well on its way to becoming a reality, maybe Little and legislators should cast their eyes on more reform work. Fixing the prison system and education funding come to mind.

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