FILE - Louisiana State Capitol

The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

(The Center Square) — The Louisiana House approved legislation to provide more clarity for felons regarding eligibility to obtain specific occupational licenses.

House Bill 639, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, passed with a vote of 98-0 to allow felons to petition state licensing boards for a determination on eligibility before participating in school or training.

"This bill provides the opportunity for people who are previously incarcerated to find out whether or not they can get a license for whatever occupation they’re trying to be licensed for prior to getting the education necessary to get that license," Pressly said on Tuesday. "It also provides discretionary factors for boards to use in determining whether that prior conviction relates to employment."

HB 639 would require an individual making a request to provide any identifying information requested by the licensing entity and details of the individual’s criminal conviction, including any relevant information.

The bill would give the licensing entity 45 days to make a determination, and also allows the individual making the request to seek a criminal background check to help make the determination.

"A determination made … is binding upon a licensing authority unless, at the time a full application for a license is submitted, the applicant has been subsequently convicted of a crime, has pending criminal charges, or has previously undisclosed criminal convictions," HB 639 states.

The bill also provides a means to appeal a determination, and requires licensing entities to publish on its website whether criminal convictions may be used as a basis for denial, and the factors considered.

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, clarified on the House floor a licensing board’s "decision is binding, but only upon the information presented to the board or retrieved by the board" at the time of the request.

Pressly stressed the intent of the bill is to save citizens the cost of education if they won’t be eligible for the necessary license.

"Everybody is familiar with our student loan crisis in this country, certainly in our state," he said. "So we want to make sure we aren’t burdening people and saddling people with a tremendous amount of debt in a lot of cases with no knowledge of whether they would actually be able to get licensed and employed in whatever industry they have."

The Pelican Institute, which backed HB 639, lauded the bill’s passage on Tuesday.

"People should be able to know if they are able to get a license before they go into debt for education and training. We applaud the House for passing HB 639 which would allow justice-involved citizens to get a pre-qualification check from a licensing board before pursuing training and education," Pelican Institute CEO Daniel Erspamer said. "This would help lower recidivism rates while protecting public safety since the best way to help people reenter society is to limit roadblocks to work."

Several other groups also supported HB 639 in House Commerce Committee in late April, including GNO, Inc., the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Louisiana Budget Project, Louisiana Progress Action, Louisiana Family Forum, the Justice Accountability Center, Right on Crime, NFIB Louisiana, the ACLU, Smart on Crime, and others.

The Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board expressed concerns about language in the bill, but did not oppose it. Representatives from the Louisiana Engineering Society and Louisiana Realtors submitted cards in opposition, but did not speak at the committee hearing.