Two bills pending in the legislature can expand opportunity, reduce recidivism and boost economic development
Background: With the coming expansion in the energy, manufacturing, and construction sectors and an aging population, Louisiana’s impending labor shortfall can only be exacerbated by excluding a large section of the prospective workforce: ex-offenders. This labor shortfall will hamper the staffing of the some 42,000 job openings expected in the coming years in Southeast Louisiana alone; jobs that require a high school diploma plus a modicum of training.
The American Bar Association has calculated that 30 percent of adults have a criminal record. Studies have shown that ex-offenders face more difficulty in obtaining employment than illegal immigrants. Yet, ex-offenders who are employed are three to five times less likely to re-offend, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Through key reforms, Louisiana has the potential to greatly grow the productive portion of the economy while increasing public safety and saving taxpayer dollars.
Challenges: There are barriers to growing the available workforce in Louisiana:
Civil Liability: The risk of being sued for negligently hiring an ex-offender drives up insurance costs and dissuades such hiring, even if the offense was long ago and wholly unrelated to the job to be performed. The Urban Institute noted, “The high probability of losing coupled with the magnitude of settlement awards suggest that fear of litigation may substantially deter employers from hiring applicants with criminal history records.” That fear is not without basis. Employers lose 72 percent of negligent hiring cases with an average settlement of more than $1.6 million.
Occupational Licensing: Burdensome licensure requirements not only suppress competition (and therefore growth) in the state’s economy, but also keep otherwise-productive citizens out of the workforce who, although fully capable, do not qualify because of a prior offense or other reasons. Louisiana requires licensure for more low- to moderate-income professions than any other state.
Strategies: The items above can be remedied with modest, common-sense statutory changes:
1. Enact a liability shield to protect employers from negligent hiring lawsuits in certain instances. Legislation adopted in Texas in 2013 removed a disincentive to hire an ex-offender. HB505 (Dixon) and SB339 (Donahue) would accomplish this in Louisiana.
2. Remove needless barriers to occupational licensing, including by adopting legislation passed in Texas in 2009 allowing many otherwise qualified ex-offenders to obtain most types of occupational licenses on a provisional basis, with the license becoming permanent after a period of full compliance with all laws and the rules governing the occupation. HB911 (Leger) would provide for such an arrangement in Louisiana.
Impact: Without reform, Louisiana runs the risk of having both jobs available and qualified individuals to fill them, but with barriers preventing connecting the two.
Removing these barriers would provide ex-offenders with access to an estimated 42,000 job openings in fields paying a median wage of $15 to $35 per hour. Jobs of this sort usually require a high school diploma or general equivalency degree.
Access to gainful employment can significantly reduce the likelihood of recidivism and keeps the ex-offender as a productive member of society. Louisiana legislators should take steps to remove unnecessary hurdles that prevent ex-offenders from joining the workforce.
 “42,000 Jobs Opening in S.E. Louisiana,” Tri-Parish Times, Feb. 5, 2014, http://www.tri-parishtimes.com/business/article_3797b9fa-8ec2-11e3-86bb-001a4bcf887a.html.
 Sherman, Mark, ABA plan limits access to public records, USA Today, (August 8, 2007), http://www.usatoday.com/news/topstories/2007-08-08-3056442146_x.htm.
 Holzer H., S. Raphael and M. Stoll (2003). Employer Demand for Ex-Offenders: Recent Evidence from Los Angeles. Discussion Paper Presented March 20, 2003 Urban Institute Roundtable on Offender Re-Entry. New York.
 Offender Workforce Development Aims to Curb Recidivism, Third Branch: Newsletter of the Federal Courts, May 2006, http://www.uscourts.gov/news/TheThirdBranch/06-05-01/Offender_Workforce_Development_Aims_to_Cut_Recidivism.aspx.
 Holzer, Harry, Employment Barriers Facing Ex-Offenders, Urban Institute, May 19, 2003, http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/410855_holzer.pdf.
 Connerley, Mary, Richard Avery, and Charles Bernardy: “Criminal Background Checks for Prospective and Current Employees: Current Practices among Municipal Agencies.” Public Personnel Management Vol. 20, No. 2.
 Institute for Justice, “License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing,” http://licensetowork.ij.org/la
 House Bill 1188, Texas Legislature, http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=83R&Bill=HB1188.
 House Bill 963, Texas Legislature, http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=81R&Bill=HB963.